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June 23, 2015

Myelin Repair Foundation to Cease Operations

  • The Myelin Repair Foundation (MRF) said this week it will cease operations in August, hobbled by its inability to raise the funds it needed for its research despite successes over its 11 years in operation.

    “Given a challenging financial position, we and our board have come to the difficult decision that we use the funds we have on hand to conduct an orderly wind down over the next couple of months. MRF will cease operation by August 31,” Foundation President Scott Johnson stated in a letter posted Monday on the foundation’s website home page.

    He said MRF would complete all experiments now underway; compile its scientific processes and results for publication; try to find a home for the assays developed by the foundation; and explore how to continue its academic collaborations.

    The decision to shut operations came just weeks after MRF announced the launch of a clinical trial to study guanabenz (formerly MRF-008) in partnership with the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

    The FDA-approved high blood pressure drug has been identified by MRF-funded researchers as a potential treatment for reducing the loss of myelin in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients.

    That and other milestones were achieved, Johnson said, on a cumulative budget of $55 million over 11 years. He said those milestones included:

    • Creating a medical research model that resulted in three Phase I trials.
    • Establishing an MRF-staffed lab.
    • Launching multiple partnerships with biopharmas to help advance myelin repair, including Gencia, Biogen, and Bionure
    • Licensing to Biogen a mouse model designed to improve the study of progressive MS.
    • Publishing more than 135 papers written by MRF academic staffers.
    • Testing of more than 1,000 compounds in MRF-developed assays.
    • He said MRF had always operated with the fundamental belief that it “must greatly accelerate drug discovery to speed first-in-class therapeutics to patients: “With that as a parameter, and no operating income or endowment, our funds have always been immediately spoken for and put to use in the most expedient manner possible.”

    Johnson said while MRF has “thousands of donors from 29 countries,” the foundation had come to rely on large gifts from a small number of donors in the absence of an endowment or operating income; 92% of its donations have come from only 56 donors.

    “Recently several large donations that we had been counting on failed to materialize. As a result we do not have sufficient funds to fund our next fiscal year which begins on July 1,” Johnson added.

    According to MRF’s most recent audit report for the year ended June 30, 2014, the foundation’s contributions and grants dipped 21% from the previous year, to $3.643 million.

    Even worse for MRF, its cash and cash equivalents plunged by more than two-thirds (67.5%), to $1.619 million from $4.988 million for the year ended June 30, 2013. That cash decline largely drove a 41% drop in total assets, to $4.374 million during the year ended June 30, 2014.

    Yet MRF’s research expense rose 4.5% from a year earlier, to $4.452 million. That figure includes the $1.649 million awarded by the foundation in research grants—25.6% of total expenses, according to GEN’s List of Top 35 Grant-Giving Disease Foundations, published earlier this month.

    “Having to stop our efforts and close our doors is the worst case for all who devoted time and/or financial support to our endeavor to help all those impacted by MS,” Johnson wrote. “Our consolation is that over the last eleven years we have had a dramatic impact on the myelin repair landscape.”