MS research takes fast step forward

Fast Forward and EMD Serono collaborate on treatments for multiple sclerosis

Amy Swinderman
NEW YORK—On May 1, Fast Forward LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS), and Merck KGaA affiliate EMD Serono Inc. announced a $3 million commitment in 2009 to support innovative, early-stage projects directed toward the development of therapies to treat, prevent or reverse nervous system damage in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS). The announcement is the first request for proposal (RFP) issued under a multiyear collaboration between the two parties to accelerate innovation and commercial development of MS therapies, one for which Merck will provide up to $19 million in total funding.

The funds will support early-stage clinical development projects with biotech companies or projects with individual researchers or academic institutions. Fast Forward will disseminate additional RFPs in Q2 2009, with initial funding of proposals anticipated by December 2009. The overall selection of program awardees will be made exclusively by Fast Forward, with participation by EMD Serono under Fast Forward's standard assessment process. The priority areas to be selected for development partnership will be determined by a joint committee comprising Fast Forward staff and representatives from EMD Serono and Merck KGaA. All funding disbursements will be managed and approved by Fast Forward's board of anagers.

Steve Arkinstall, vice president of U.S. research at EMD Serono, said the company is pleased to join forces with Fast Forward to drive the development of a new generation of MS therapies.

"By providing university researchers and early-stage companies with an opportunity for follow-on funding and continued collaboration, we can close the gap between the laboratory discoveries and life changing therapies for people with MS," Arkinstall says.
 
For Fast Forward, a nonprofit organization established by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society two years ago to accelerate the development of treatments for MS, the agreement with EMD Serono is a first step to accomplishing its mission to connect university-based MS research with private-sector drug development, fund small biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies' attempts to develop innovative new MS therapies and repurpose FDA-approved drugs as new treatments for MS, says Dr. Timothy Coetzee, president of the company.

"There aren't a lot of other non-profit organizations doing this," Coetzee says. "The ability of research institutions and business to bring new projects forward is lagging, particularly in this uncertain economic climate. Partnerships with industry leaders like Merck KGaA and EMD Serono equip us to move even more aggressively toward our shared goal of a world free of MS. It's also a partnership that brings expertise on both sides of the table. We're bringing our network of relationships, and EMD Serono is bringing the resources and capacity to put them together in a way that benefits both of us."

A unique feature of the RFP is that EMD Serono and Merck KGaA will be working with award recipients to help them to aggressively move their research programs forward, Coetzee says. Fast Forward is seeking proposals for funding through the Accelerating Innovation program, which is open to academic institutions, non-profit research organizations, and seed-stage companies, and the Accelerating Commercial Development program, which is open to early-stage for-profit commercial organizations that have achieved Series A or comparable investment funding. The commitment of $3 million in 2009 is comprised of up to $250,000 in funding available for one year to each awardee selected through the Accelerating Innovation program, and up to $500,000 in funding available for one year to each awardee selected through the Accelerating Commercial Development program.

Priority research areas for the RFP include: modulation of innate and/or adaptive immunity to promote central nervous system (CNS) neuroprotection and/or repair; molecular strategies for direct CNS neuroprotection; molecular approaches for CNS repair and remyelination; and regenerative cell therapies and related platform technologies.

The overall selection of program awardees will be made exclusively by Fast Forward, with participation by EMD Serono under Fast Forward's standard assessment process. The full RFPs are available on Fast Forward's web site, www.fastforward.org along with eligibility criteria for both programs and instructions for submission of a preliminary proposal.
 

Amy Swinderman

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