Merck Serono, a division of Merck, Darmstadt, Germany, and The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, announced today that they will collaborate to develop antibodies for the treatment of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Under the terms of the agreement, Merck Serono will fund a research program at the Manhasset, NY-based Feinstein Institute and be responsible for the development and commercialization of the antibodies resulting from the collaboration. The program will focus on the use of antibodies to inhibit the action of certain proteins responsible for inflammation in the pathogenesis of SLE.
"There is a very high unmet medical need for novel therapies to treat systemic lupus erythematosus. Over the last fifty years, only one new treatment option has been approved to treat the disease," said Dr Bernhard Kirschbaum, executive vice President, head of global research and early development for Merck Serono. "The Feinstein Institute is at the forefront of translational research in inflammatory and autoimmune diseases and this is a rare opportunity for our researchers to collaborate with key experts in the field of systemic lupus erythematosus to develop alternative therapeutic approaches, and further strengthen our research capabilities in the field of immunology."
"We are delighted to collaborate with Merck Serono to develop therapeutics for lupus with the potential to treat the underlying causes of the disease," said Betty Diamond, MD, head of the Center for Autoimmune & Musculoskeletal Diseases at the Feinstein Institute. "The resources of Merck Serono will be an important addition to our efforts to provide new antibody therapeutics targeted at inflammatory processes. These mechanisms are critical to solving the problem of lupus and many other autoimmune diseases. It is gratifying to ally Feinstein research discoveries with strong pharmaceutical interest. Merck Serono is an ideal partner in this regard," added Kevin J. Tracey, MD, president of the Feinstein Institute.
The pathogenesis of SLE is multifactorial, including genetic and environmental factors and abnormalities of both the innate and the adaptive immune system. Merck Serono is currently investigating atacicept in phase II of clinical development, for the treatment of SLE. Atacicept targets B cells which are thought to have a role in the pathogenesis of autoimmune diseases such as SLE, and inhibits their development. The collaboration with the Feinstein Institute will allow Merck Serono to further strengthen its research into alternative mechanisms for the treatment of SLE.