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National MS Society and EMD Serono, Inc. Announce Recipients of Funding for MS Research

December 17, 2013

-- Up to $1.3 million 2013 to accelerate early-stage research in MS

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society through Fast Forward and EMD Serono, Inc., a subsidiary of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, announced the fourth group of recipients to receive funding through their collaboration, which is designed to accelerate innovation and commercial development of multiple sclerosis therapies.

The awards total approximately $1.3 million and will be distributed from the Accelerating Innovation and Accelerating Commercial Development Funds created by EMD Serono and the National MS Society through Fast Forward to encourage early-stage drug discovery for MS. The Accelerating Innovation Program is open to academic institutions, non-profit research organizations and seed-stage for-profit commercial organizations. The other fund in the collaboration, the Accelerating Commercial Development Program, is open to early-stage for-profit commercial organizations that have achieved Series A or comparable investment funding.

The National MS Society through Fast Forward and EMD Serono distributed a call for proposals to fund projects directed towards the development of therapies to prevent, treat or reverse nervous system damage in MS. These priority research areas were determined by a joint steering committee comprised of Society staff and representatives from EMD Serono and Merck KGaA.

The following organizations will receive funding:
  • University of California, San Diego School of Medicine (Principal Researcher: Joan Heller Brown, Ph.D.) will receive $285,000 over 18 months to perform research to identify a subset of G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) that activate astrocyte proliferation and inflammatory pathways through coupling to the G protein G alpha 12/13 subunits and activation of RhoA, to identify therapeutic targets that could stop MS disease processes and even pave the way for myelin repair.
  • Emory University School of Medicine (Principal Researcher: Randy Hall, Ph.D.) will receive $471,333 over 21 months to explore the importance of two orphan G protein-coupled receptors in the control of myelin-making cells, as potential therapeutic targets to stimulate myelin repair.
  • Euroscreen SA (Principal Researcher: Sébastien Hannedouche, Ph.D.) will receive $501,657 over 12 months for the identification of ligands for up to five "orphan" GPCRs which may play pathogenic or protective roles in MS, in search of therapeutic targets that may stop MS disease processes or stimulate myelin repair.
“Advancing new treatments for people with MS requires continuing research and discovery,” said Dr. Timothy Coetzee, Chief Advocacy, Services and Research Officer at the National MS Society. “We are pleased to have the opportunity to advance research through the continued collaboration with EMD Serono. We remain committed to being a driving force of research and treatment options to stop MS, restore function, and end MS forever, and we look forward to learning more from the results of these innovative projects.”

EMD Serono and the National MS Society entered into their collaboration in March 2009. As part of the up to $19 million collaborative agreement, EMD Serono provides the majority of funding for the research awards, with the National MS Society contributing 10 percent of the total financing of the awards disseminated from each of the two funds.

“We are pleased to announce the 2013 funding recipients whose work has the potential to broaden our knowledge and understanding of MS, and hopefully, result in new treatment options for people living with this disease,” said Annalisa Jenkins, Global Head of Research and Development at Merck Serono, a division of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. “Our ongoing collaboration with the National MS Society through Fast Forward reflects our sustained commitment to leveraging internal as well as external expertise in furthering scientific excellence in MS.”

As part of a comprehensive approach to MS research and treatment, the Society through Fast Forward is focusing on accelerating commercial development of promising research discoveries. Through Fast Forward, the Society connects university-based MS research with private-sector drug development and funds small biotechnology/pharmaceutical companies to develop innovative new MS therapies and repurpose FDA-approved drugs as new treatments for MS.

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis, and there is currently no cure for MS. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and it affects women three times more than men.


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