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The Boston Globe

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Drug makers, Massachusetts to form consortium

They will conduct research on neurological disorders

Massachusetts and seven pharmaceutical companies are expected to unveil an ambitious neuroscience consortium Wednesday aimed at improving the understanding and treatment of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.

Participants in the Massachusetts Neuroscience Consortium include Abbott Laboratories, Biogen Idec, Inc., EMD Serono Inc., Janssen Research & Development LLC, Merck & Co., Pfizer Inc., and Sunovion Pharmaceuticals Inc. Each has pledged $250,000, for initial funding of $1.75 million. The money will go toward preclinical neuroscience at various academic and research institutions in the state.

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The consortium will be formally announced by Governor Deval Patrick at the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s annual convention at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, where more than 15,000 attendees have gathered this week.

While the amount of money involved is relatively small — at least for now — the consortium is significant because it involves cooperation between companies that in some cases compete with each other, said Susan Windham-Bannister, chief executive of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.

“This kind of arrangement is out of the comfort zones of these companies, so we wanted to make it easy for them to participate,” Windham-Bannister said.

Consortium members will solicit and review proposals from academic institutions interested in conducting research. The first solicitation period is expected to open in the fall.

All Massachusetts academic and research institutions will be eligible to apply for grant money through the consortium. The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, a quasi­public agency, will administer the funds.

Massachusetts is a center for biomedical neuroscience, with more than a dozen institutions engaged in neuroscience research, including Brandeis University, UMass Medical Center, and the Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center.

Windham-Bannister said the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center and the consortium member companies — which have been working on the project for three years — decided to focus on neuroscience because of its complexity.

“When we first got the companies together, the general consensus was that we haven’t made enough progress in neuroscience,” she said. “We just haven’t had the major breakthroughs. So that’s what we have targeted.”

The seven industry sponsors will identify common standards, and levels of validation necessary for a project’s objective to be considered complete. Research results will be shared with all participants, and companies, as well as academic researchers, will have access to any tools developed.

Richard Hargreaves, worldwide discovery head for neuroscience at drug giant Merck & Co., based in Kenilworth, N.J., said he is excited to work with Massachusetts academic institutions.

“We all know that some of the best research happens outside our companies,” Hargreaves said. “This consortium will allow us to translate some of the best academic research into medicine.”

D.C. Denison can be reached at denison@globe.com.
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