Major milestone in identifying and creating a register of genes involved in multiple sclerosis

Serono announced today that researchers at the Serono Genetics Institute (SGI) have achieved a major milestone in identifying and creating a register of genes involved in multiple sclerosis (MS).

For the first time in this disease area, researchers at the SGI have identified 80 genes involved in the inflammatory and neuro-degenerative pathways of MS, based on a 40% genome scan comparing the genetic profile of a total of 1,800 people with MS and healthy individuals in different populations.

"We are excited about this significant step forward in building a complete inventory of genes involved in MS, " said Professor Daniel Cohen, Vice-President and Worldwide Head of Genetics at Serono. "The completion of the MS Whole Genome Scan in 2006 will lead to a comprehensive catalogue of potential MS drug targets providing a basis for the future development of innovative MS therapies."

"We are dedicated to the task of understanding diseases and developing the treatments of the future", said Ernesto Bertarelli, CEO of Serono. "Through our current marketed products, such as RebifO, our research and development projects and the major findings announced today, Serono is underscoring its commitment to improving the lives of people with MS and will pave the way for innovative treatments."

The understanding of the disease genetics in MS will enhance Serono's drug discovery in identifying proteins that can be used either as targets for drug development or directly as therapeutics. In addition, the knowledge of genetics in MS provides a basis for better designing safer and more effective drugs and enabling physicians to address unmet needs and potentially better match treatments to the individual patient.

This large-scale association study was performed in a French, Swedish and American population, including a total of 900 people with MS and an equivalent number of healthy individuals. Researchers at SGI used the Affymetrix GeneChip technology to scan over 100,000 SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) to identify the genes involved in MS, comparing the genetic profile of cases and controls. The next step is to continue this endeavour, applying next generation GeneChip technology to scan over 500,000 SNPs and thus complete the MS Whole Genome Scan during 2006.

Serono's mission is to discover and develop innovative products to fight debilitating diseases, such as MS, and improve the quality of life of patients. Based on the human genome sequence, this fundamental advance in understanding the genetic roots of MS is a major landmark in the development of more targeted therapies of the future.

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, inflammatory condition of the nervous system and is the most common, non-traumatic, neurological disease in young adults. Multiple sclerosis may affect approximately two million people worldwide. While symptoms can vary, the most common symptoms of multiple sclerosis include blurred vision, numbness or tingling in the limbs and problems with strength and coordination. The relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis are the most common.

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