The John Merck Fund's Developmental Disabilities Program Shifts to the Translational

The Boston-based John Merck Fund was established in 1970 by Serena Merck, who was the wife of the Big Pharma titan George W. Merck, and it’s set to spend down its remaining assets by 2021. In the meantime, it’s got a real soft spot for developmental disabilities grants and recently put out an RFP seeking projects worthy of $1 million over the course of four years.

The Developmental Disabilities Program is the fund’s original grantmaking area, and as it looks its last era of existence straight in the face, it’s shifting its focus from basic research to clinical and translational research with emphasis on children with Fragile X or Down syndromes. Its goal is encouraging those research collaborations that can lead to big breakthroughs by bridging basic and clinical science.

Related: What Are the John Merck Fund's Grantmaking Priorities?

The fund has had a longstanding interest in people with intellectual and developmental disorders. In 2012, the fund launched its Developmental Disabilities Translational Research Program, which supports researchers working to develop treatments and improve outcomes for individuals with developmental disabilities, particularly Down syndrome and Fragile X syndrome (and FX associated disorders). The program provides grants for innovative translational research projects that have the greatest potential of identifying rational and effective treatments and interventions for the particular condition being addressed.  

The program emphasizes interdisciplinary grant applications focused primarily on FXS and DS, although under special circumstances it will also support studies concerned with other developmental disabilities. The fund is particularly interested in translational research designed to improve the lives of people with developmental disabilities and their families. Investigators from a range of disciplines are encouraged to apply. Anyone who’s well-geared to collaborate will be given special consideration: The John Merck Fund makes no secret of the fact that it’s open to interdisciplinary proposals from scientists outside the field. It’s these dark horse proposals that may lead to the most significant progress.

Approximately ten grants of $1 million over four years will be awarded through the program.  

Scientists at any career stage who have a scholarly commitment to developmental disabilities are eligible to apply. Applicants must possess an academic rank in a university or medical school, or have equivalent standing in a research institute or medical center; a record of research in areas relating to developmental disabilities; and a scholarly commitment to a career in developmental disabilities research.