SYDNEY, Australia ¿ A new approach to funding that involves research groups banding together in associations to make submissions has scored an early success with a neuroscience consortium gaining A$25 million (US$12.8 million) in funding from Berlin-based drug giant Schering AG.

Neurosciences Victoria (NSV) in Melbourne, a coordination and clearing house that has helped a number of member neuroscience groups present a collective submission to Schering, expects to hear which of the projects it presented to the German corporation will receive funding and in what amounts by September.

NSV Chief Executive William Hart said that Schering had agreed to the funding but a corporate committee was now looking at a list of 10 projects submitted to it, to decide how the funds would be allocated.

Schering was interested in funding projects in three areas ¿ degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer¿s and Parkinson¿s, research on stroke and basic neuroscience.

There were many other research projects being undertaken by members of the NSV consortium, which included research groups at the universities of Melbourne and Monash, the Austin Hospital, the Walter & Eliza Hall Institute and the Howard Florey Institute, all in Melbourne. But those projects, including research into neuropsychiatry and the search for new drugs to treat severe depression and schizophrenia, as well as research into pain control and epilepsy, fell outside Schering¿s funding criteria.

One method the Schering committee would use to grant funds to individual projects is to grant them according to the number of scientists (or number of full-time equivalent researchers, to take account of part-time researchers) working on each of the projects, Hart said.

The NSV itself has only recently been formed in response to a report commissioned by the Victorian state government on encouraging biotechnology. The report recommended that different groups in the same research areas associate or consolidate their operations in some way, to present a united front when looking for funding.

Shortly after being formed last year the NSV won A$13.3 million in funding from the state government.

Hart said that the NSV was a clearing and coordination house for member groups with some responsibility for marketing and obtaining funds. The actual research is undertaken by member groups, which retain rights to the intellectual property.

In the Schering deal, the pharmaceutical company has the right of first refusal of any commercial discovery arising from the projects it funds.

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