GENEVA, Switzerland, May 5, 2010 /PRNewswire/ -- Merck Serono, a division of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, and Fast Forward, LLC, a not-for-profit organization established by the US-based National Multiple Sclerosis Society to accelerate the development of discoveries into new or improved therapies, today announced the first four recipients of funding designed to speed research advances in mutually selected high potential areas of multiple sclerosis (MS) research. The awards total nearly $1.5 million. Two are allocated to development programs which are available to for-profit entities and two are allocated to innovation projects, available to university-based investigators and seed-stage for-profit entities. Merck Serono and Fast Forward are currently soliciting proposals (Request for Proposals - RFPs) for the next round of funding available through this collaboration. (For more information please visit:

The focus of the first RFPs, issued in 2009, was central nervous system (CNS) neuroprotection and/or repair strategies; these priority areas were determined by a joint steering committee (JSC) comprising Fast Forward staff and representatives from Merck Serono. As part of the current collaboration agreement with Fast Forward, Merck Serono provided the majority of funding for the research awards, with Fast Forward contributing 10 percent of the financing to round out the awards disseminated from each of the two funds. The following are the recipients from the Accelerating Development fund:

Innate Therapeutics Limited, Auckland, New Zealand (Project Director - Simon Wilkinson) will receive $550,000 over 15 months to conduct a phase IIa clinical trial in patients with progressive forms of MS using MIS416, a naturally occurring agent derived from bacteria.

Cognosci Inc., Research Triangle Park, NC (Project Director - Feng Qiao Li, PhD) will receive $330,000 over 12 months for the efficacy testing of COG112, a molecule that mimics actions of the cholesterol transporting protein Apolipoprotein E (ApoE). In the funded studies, the company will evaluate the ability of COG112 to promote myelin repair in the central nervous system (CNS) in laboratory models of MS.

Additionally, the following organizations will receive financing from the Accelerating Innovation Fund:

CenTRion Therapeutics Limited, Greenwich, UK, (Project Director - Michael Leach, PhD) will receive $275,000 over 12 months for studies with compounds, related to lamotrigine, an approved epilepsy therapy, which some studies suggest also can protect nerve cells from damage. CenTrion will conduct research to determine the safety and efficacy of its original neuroprotective compounds in laboratory models of MS.

Oregon Health Science University, Portland, OR, (Project Director - Lawrence Sherman, PhD) will receive $275,000 for the screening and efficacy of small molecule inhibitors of hyaluronidase, an enzyme that dissolves hyaluronic acid - a complex sugar molecule that accumulates in MS lesions. Dr. Sherman's group has found that by-products resulting from breakdown of hyalunoric acid prevent myelin repair. This project will assess whether myelin repair blockage can be overcome by inhibiting the activity of hyaluronidase.

We are pleased to announce the 2009 funding recipients who will work to advance promising early- and late-stage projects in MS that could ultimately help patients, said Bernhard Kirschbaum, PhD, Executive Vice President, Global Research and Development at Merck Serono. Merck Serono is committed to advancing scientific and medical knowledge and to furthering key research that has the potential to help people living with MS.

The promise of current research to change the MS landscape is exciting, and it fuels the collaboration between Fast Forward and Merck Serono in advancing science in key areas of focus to speed the development of new therapies and innovations to benefit people living with MS. We are proud to be able to provide resources for those working to end MS and look forward to the seeing the results stemming from these projects, said Dr. Timothy Coetzee, President of Fast Forward.

Merck Serono and Fast Forward entered into a two-year worldwide agreement in March 2009 to accelerate the development of treatments for MS. The collaboration, which supports early-stage clinical development projects with biotech companies as well as programs with individual researchers and academic institutions, has the potential to be extended for an additional three years. The RFP process for 2010 is currently underway with a goal of approving the next round of recipients expected in December. (For more information please visit:

About multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, inflammatory condition of the central nervous system and is the most common, non-traumatic, disabling neurological disease in young adults. It is estimated that approximately two million people have MS worldwide. While symptoms can vary, the most common symptoms of MS include blurred vision, numbness or tingling in the limbs and problems with strength and coordination. The relapsing forms of MS are the most common.

About Fast Forward, LLC

Fast Forward, LLC, established by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society as part of a comprehensive approach to MS research and treatment, focuses on speeding promising research discoveries towards commercial drug development. Fast Forward accelerates the development of treatments for MS by connecting university-based MS research with private-sector drug development and by funding small biotechnology/pharmaceutical companies to develop innovative new MS therapies and repurpose FDA-approved drugs as new treatments for MS. For more information, please visit

About MS and the U.S. based National Multiple Sclerosis Society

MS is a chronic, unpredictable neurological disease that affects the central nervous system. It is thought to be an autoimmune disorder, meaning the immune system incorrectly attacks healthy tissue. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. These problems may be permanent or may come and go. The U.S.-based National MS Society addresses the challenges of each person affected by MS by funding cutting-edge research, driving change through advocacy, facilitating professional education, collaborating with MS organizations around the world, and providing programs and services designed to help people with MS and their families move their lives forward. The Society is dedicated to achieving a world free of MS. Join the movement at

About Merck Serono

Merck Serono is the division for innovative prescription pharmaceuticals of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, a global pharmaceutical and chemical company. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, Merck Serono discovers, develops, manufactures and markets innovative small molecules and biopharmaceuticals to help patients with unmet medical needs. In the United States and Canada, EMD Serono operates through separately incorporated affiliates.

Merck Serono has leading brands serving patients with cancer (Erbitux(R), cetuximab), multiple sclerosis (Rebif(R), interferon beta-1a), infertility (Gonal-f(R), follitropin alpha), endocrine and metabolic disorders (Saizen(R) and Serostim(R), somatropin), (Kuvan(R), sapropterin dihydrochloride) as well as cardiometabolic diseases (Glucophage(R), metformin), (Concor(R), bisoprolol), (Euthyrox(R), levothyroxine). Not all products are available in all markets.

With an annual RD expenditure of more than EUR 1 billion, Merck Serono is committed to growing its business in specialist-focused therapeutic areas including neurodegenerative diseases, oncology, fertility and endocrinology, as well as new areas potentially arising out of research and development in autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.

About Merck

Merck is a global pharmaceutical and chemical company with total revenues of EUR 7.7 billion in 2009, a history that began in 1668, and a future shaped by approximately 33,600 employees in 64 countries. Its success is characterized by innovations from entrepreneurial employees. Merck's operating activities come under the umbrella of Merck KGaA, in which the Merck family holds an approximately 70% interest and free shareholders own the remaining approximately 30%. In 1917 the U.S. subsidiary Merck Co. was expropriated and has been an independent company ever since.

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SOURCE: Merck Serono S A

CONTACT: Merck Serono S.A. - Geneva, 9 Chemin des Mines, 1202 Genève,Suisse, Media relations:Tel: +41-22-414-36-00