U.Va. Signs Research Collaboration with Merck & Co., Inc. to Discover Drugs for Women's Reproductive Health

March 12, 2010 –The University of Virginia today announced that it has entered into a research collaboration with Merck to discover novel drugs for women's reproductive health.

The collaborative preclinical research program combines expertise in reproductive cell and molecular biology within the Center for Research in Contraceptive and Reproductive Health with the screening resources of the drug discovery and development groups at Merck Research Laboratories in the Netherlands. The collaboration will focus on oocyte development and fertilization with the potential to deliver the starting points for developing non-steroidal contraceptives. An oocyte is the precursor to a fully developed egg cell or ovum. Financial terms of the collaboration were not disclosed.

"The research findings that have emerged since the first mapping of the human genome in 2003 now provide striking opportunities for contraceptive drug development," said John C. Herr, director of the Center for Research in Contraceptive and Reproductive Health. "This alliance builds on the center's many years of basic research dedicated to unraveling the roles of novel proteins involved in fertilization. This basic science has been supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, by the Kenneth A. Scott Charitable Trust (a KeyBank Trust) and by the Fogarty International Center at the NIH.

"The advances that led to this alliance were the work of a cadre of Fogarty International Scholars that came from India to the University for advanced training including Drs. Monika Sachdev, Arabinda Mandal, Eusebio Pires, Panneerdoss Subbarayalu and V. Suryavathi. Our team looks forward to utilizing our knowledge of proteins that are unique to the egg to identify drugs that will selectively target this cell."

Yvonne Maddox, deputy director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said, "The NIH is gratified that bilateral cooperation with Indian scientists has provided the training for this important academic-industrial alliance. This cooperation with the NIH program in Contraceptive and Reproductive Health Research has opened a new chapter in female contraceptive development."

Dr. Steven T. DeKosky, vice president and dean of the U.Va. School of Medicine, commented: "We are extremely pleased to join Merck in advancing the science of reproductive medicine and contraceptive development, and thereby contribute to efforts aimed at reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies."

Thomas C. Skalak, U.Va.'s vice president for research, said, "The University of Virginia has a commitment to engage in explorations at the frontiers of basic science and to extend our discoveries into useful applications. This partnership led by entrepreneur and scientist John Herr exemplifies U.Va.'s growing global recognition as a significant source of innovation that drives economic growth and social welfare." 

The U.Va. Patent Foundation, which has over the years secured several U.S. patents on discoveries from the Center for Research in Contraceptive and Reproductive Health, has been heavily involved in the management and negotiation of intellectual property rights involved in the partnership.

About the Center for Research in Contraceptive and Reproductive Health
The Center for Research in Contraceptive and Reproductive Health at the University of Virginia supports interdisciplinary research in basic, translational and clinical reproductive sciences, including genomics and proteomics of spermatogenesis and oogenesis.