After dispensing 1 million euros in grants to support research in multiple sclerosis, Merck Serono says it is committed to expanding its ties further with academics.

Speaking to PharmaTimes at the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS) meeting in Copenhagen, Andrew Galazka, chief of scientific affairs and head of autoimmune and emerging therapies at Merck Serono, said that the company has always been dedicated to fostering strong ties with academia. He said the group, which is the biopharmaceutical division of Germany's Merck KGaA, does not suffer from NIH ('not invented here') syndrome, adding that it would be "unrealistic and arrogant" to think a drug maker can come up with medical solutions working on its own.

Dr Galazka was speaking as Merck Serono unveiled the recipients of its inaugural Grant for Multiple Sclerosis Innovation (GMSI) awards. Four recipients, three from the USA and one from Germany, will share the 1 million euro grant to support their research and he said that such grants are vital at a time when funding for research is hard to find and increasingly competitive, adding that such initiatives are fulfilling an unmet medical need.

Dr Galazka said Merck Serono was overwhelmed by proposals for the grants as the scheme was only launched at ECTRIMS last year. Some 112 applications were whittled down to eight proposals which were presented to a scientific committee that looked at relevance to clinical practice, innovative research, scientific rationale, feasibility and practical utility.  

The four recipients are Daniel Harrison at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Thomas Thum of the Hannover Medical School, Kevin O’Connor at Yale School of Medicine and Joshua Bacon at NYU Langone’s Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center. Merck Serono has first refusal on taking these projects further.__

Annalisa Jenkins, head of R&D at Merck Serono, said that "we recognise the value of a broad R&D ecosystem, and seek to lever insights and expertise from across the continuum of the healthcare landscape". She concluded that the grants are "a unique platform which will help us to accelerate exceptional science that exhibits the potential to become an innovative medicine or a high-value solution for patients".