Merck Serono and Fast Forward - a wholly-owned subsidiary of the American National Multiple Sclerosis Society - have linked arms in a new collaboration that aims to accelerate progress in promising MS research projects.

Under the alliance, development projects at biotechnology companies, academic institutes or even individual researchers will be evaluated for potential and those showing the most promise will be awarded a slice of $19 million of funding provided by Merck Serono’s parent company Merck KGaA.

Fast Forward was set up by the ANMS to close the gap between research and drug development, and the two programmes in the collaboration with Merck - the Early Stage Commercial Company Fund and the Innovation Accelerator Fund - will complement its ongoing efforts to drive early-stage drug discovery for new MS therapies.

“Both programs will provide critical resources to under-funded stages of the drug development process and align with Fast Forward’s strategy to identify the most promising drug discovery research and accelerate the drug development process by providing financial resources to move it forward”, Merck explained.

And commenting on the partnership, Bernhard Kirschbaum, executive vice
President of Global Research and Development at Merck Serono, said identification of new and innovative opportunities to change the MS treatment paradigm is “a critical aspect of addressing this disease” and he said the firm is “pleased to bring to this alliance not only its financial support, but our years of expertise and commitment in the field of MS research and development”.

A call for proposals is expected during the second quarter of this year, with initial funding anticipated in December. Fast Forward will ultimately be responsible for cherry-picking programmes that will benefit from the funding, but priority areas of research will be determined beforehand by a joint committee, the groups noted.