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MJFF and Merck Serono (EMD Serono in North America) Join Forces on $2-Million Initiative to Drive Treatments for PD-Related Cognitive Dysfunction and Mood Disorders

NEW YORK, Dec. 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ --- The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research has committed up to $2 million for research toward therapies to alleviate Parkinson's-related cognitive dysfunction and mood disorders. The funding is to be awarded under a new initiative, Cognitive Deficits and Mood Disorders in Parkinson's Disease, made possible by generous leadership funding from Merck Serono (EMD Serono in North America), affiliates of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany.

"Most people think of Parkinson's disease as a motor disorder, but time and again, patients tell us that the cognitive and mood-related symptoms of PD -- including depression, anxiety and executive dysfunction -- are some of the most disabling aspects of the disease," said Katie Hood, the Foundation's interim CEO. "These symptoms frequently affect patients early in their disease and don't respond to dopamine replacement therapy. With the Cognitive Deficits and Mood Disorders in Parkinson's Disease initiative, we hope to invigorate research and therapeutic development in this very important area."

Elmar Schnee, President of Merck Serono, commented: "Merck Serono recognizes the urgent need for new therapies to alleviate PD-related mood disorders and cognitive dysfunction, and we look forward to supporting The Michael J. Fox Foundation in pursuit of effective treatments for these under-addressed aspects of Parkinson's disease. Our support of the Foundation is just one example of our commitment to driving the innovative science that will allow every individual to live a fuller and more satisfying life."

Cognitive dysfunction, which includes difficulty in planning, sequencing, initiating and sustaining behavior toward a given goal, and incorporating feedback to make adjustments along the way, is estimated to occur in up to 80 percent of people with PD. Depression is thought to affect up to 50 percent of Parkinson's patients. Anxiety and apathy also are often associated with PD.

"While treatments for classic forms of depression or anxiety have been developed, little evidence exists that they are optimal when used in Parkinson's patients," said Todd Sherer, PhD, the Foundation's vice president, research programs. "Additionally, while information from other fields must be leveraged in pursuing treatments for PD's cognitive and psychiatric symptoms, simple extrapolation of this knowledge to Parkinson's is not possible -- perhaps due to the pathology of PD and its treatments."

Dr. Sherer noted that MJFF and Merck Serono hope, through their innovative partnership, to encourage Parkinson's scientists to collaborate with researchers from other areas, including psychiatry, in order to capitalize on work already done and to obtain different perspectives on cognitive and psychiatric disorders in Parkinson's disease.

The Foundation will accept proposals for clinical research projects or for basic or translational research in relevant preclinical models of PD. Priorities for funding include:

-- Novel approaches to understanding the pathophysiology of cognitive dysfunction and psychiatric disorders in PD

-- Development and characterization of pre-clinical models for these symptoms

-- Examination of the role of cognitive dysfunction and psychiatric disorders in disease onset, progression and prognosis

-- Development or validation of tools to predict or assess early development of cognitive dysfunction and psychiatric disorders in PD

-- Detailed evaluation of the impact of existing PD treatments on these symptoms

-- Pre-clinical and clinical testing of available and experimental treatments for cognitive dysfunction and psychiatric disturbances in PD patients

A conference call with MJFF Research Programs staff to further clarify the aims and goals of this initiative will be held on Tuesday, January 22, at 12 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time. Researchers wishing to participate in the call must RSVP to and will receive an e-mail reply with call-in details.

The overall selection of program awardees will be made exclusively by the Foundation under its standard peer-review process. Pre-proposals under this initiative are required and are due at 6 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time on Wednesday, February 13, 2008. Funding is anticipated in July 2008. Full information on how to apply is available on the Foundation's Web site,

About The Michael J. Fox Foundation

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research is dedicated to ensuring the development of a cure for Parkinson's disease through an aggressively funded research agenda. To date, the Foundation has funded $100 million in research directly or through partnerships.

About Merck Serono

Merck Serono International S.A., the new division for innovative small molecules and biopharmaceuticals of Merck, was established following the acquisition of Serono and the integration of its business with the former Merck Ethicals Division. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, Merck Serono discovers, develops, produces and commercializes innovative products to help patients with diseases with unmet needs. Our North American business operates in the United States and Canada under EMD Serono.

Merck Serono has leading brands serving patients with cancer (Erbitux (R)), multiple sclerosis (Rebif (R)), infertility (Gonal-f (R)), metabolic and cardiometabolic disorders (Glucophage (R), Concor (R), Saizen (R), Serostim (R)), as well as psoriasis (Raptiva (R)). With an annual R&D investment of EUR 1bn, we are committed to growing our business in specialist-focused therapeutic areas such as Neurodegenerative Diseases and Oncology, as well as new therapeutic areas potentially arising out of our research and development in Autoimmune and Inflammatory Diseases.

About EMD Serono

EMD Serono, Inc., headquartered in Rockland, Massachusetts, is an affiliate of Merck KGaA in Darmstadt, Germany. EMD Serono is a leader in fertility treatments, with Gonal-f (R) (follitropin alpha for injection), Luveris (R) (lutropin alfa for injection) and Ovidrel (R) Prefilled Syringe (choriogonadotropin alpha injection). The company has strong market positions in neurodegenerative diseases, with Rebif (R) (interferon beta-1a), as well as in endocrinology, with Saizen (R) (somatropin (rDNA origin) for injection), Serostim (R) (somatropin (rDNA origin) for injection) and Zorbtive (TM) (somatropin (rDNA origin) for injection).

About Merck

Merck KGaA is a global pharmaceutical and chemical company with sales of EUR 6.3 billion in 2006, a history that began in 1668, and a future shaped by 30,962 employees in 61 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 Michael J. Fox Foundation
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