EMD Serono, the biopharmaceutical division of Merck KGaA in the U.S. and Canada, announced the launch of the company’s Multiple Sclerosis Leadership and Innovation Network (MS-LINK), an interdisciplinary research community aimed at improving the care of individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS).
The program will combine clinical outcomes and real-world data with scientific and precision medicine to advance MS research and improve the daily lives of MS patients. Initial collaborators include the National MS Society and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
“Real progress in MS will not come from just one lab or one doctor, but from working together collaboratively with the brightest minds in MS to drive a true paradigm shift in how we treat and support people living with this disease,” Rehan Verjee, president of EMD Serono and global head of the Innovative Medicine Franchises, said in a press release.
“Together with the National MS Society and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, our work to bring together research focusing on patient-reported outcomes, real-world data and precision medicine has only just begun, and we’re excited to continue to grow the MS-LINK network … ,” Verjee added.
MS-LINK branches into two separate research networks. The first is clinically oriented and analyzes real-world data and patient-reported outcomes to better understand clinical factors affecting the daily lives of MS patients, and how to improve patient-centered care.
Researchers will use magnetic resonance imaging-based 3D modeling and artificial intelligence to investigate the differences between MS-specific and non-specific brain lesions. The goal is to improve disease diagnosis and surveillance through the understanding of these differences.
The 3D modeling approach also will serve to investigate ethnic-specific treatment responses by assessing changes in lesion size, shape, and surface features upon MS treatment.
“Being able to see and feel a 3D printed lesion in your hand is very different from looking at it on a screen, even if you’re examining a 3D model,” said Darin T. Okuda, MD, project lead investigator, and professor of neurology and neurotherapeutics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
“This is an important advancement for patients and healthcare professionals, and also artificial intelligence researchers, as investigating accurate 3D representations of MS brain lesions both before and after treatment has unmatched explanatory power,” Okuda added.
The second research network, which is the scientific and precision medicine network, will provide resources and research that can aid physicians, including individualized medicine based on differences in genes, environment, and lifestyle.
As part of the second network, EMD Serono also funds a pilot research program testing how aging affects MS. In partnership with the National MS Society, the program will collect preliminary data to determine the possibility of further funding.
“Partnering with EMD Serono’s MS-LINK initiative will enable us to fund more research focused on understanding how aging contributes to MS progression,” said Bruce Bebo, PhD, executive vice president of research at the National MS Society.
“Pilot projects funded by this collaboration could help identify new innovative strategies for slowing down, stopping, or even reversing MS progression,” Bebo added.
MS-LINK will continue to seek collaboration partners and expand research areas, with new community members and studies planned for later this year. Among future topics, the community will focus on MS-related immune involvement, treatment selection, shared decision-making, and modifiable risk factors.