Good things can happen when you get scientists from academia into the same room as drug developers. And it’s not just the proton jokes that inevitably materialize, although even those can be critical to the kind of relationship-building that drives science forward.
More importantly, by merging the finest academic minds where innovative ideas are often born, with those with the knowledge and resources to navigate the drug development pipeline, real progress may emerge toward finding new drugs that could benefit people with Parkinson’s disease (PD). With this in mind, The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) takes a proactive approach to fostering a pre-competitive space for shared problem-solving around PD drug development.
One way MJFF does this is by sponsoring the only drug development conference focused exclusively on PD: The Parkinson’s Disease Therapeutics Conference. In just under a month, more than 200 researchers from across the globe will descend upon New York for the sixth annual installment of this growing event, to hear presentations on novel therapeutic targets for PD, and to discuss how academia and industry can work together to drive progress toward better treatments for the disease. The New York Academy of Sciences is co-sponsoring the event, which will take place on Wednesday, October 24.
“The PD Therapeutics Conference offers a unique opportunity for those of us in academia to make contacts with those in the pharmaceutical industry with whom we might partner in the future,” says past attendee Anders Bjorklund, MD, PhD, of Lund University in Sweden.
Bjorklund has experienced firsthand the benefits of networking at PD Therapeutics: His team made initial contact with biopharmaceutical company PsychoGenics at a past conference. Now they are working together on a clinical study into a novel drug for Parkinson’s, called eltoprazine.
Still, “even more than offering a networking opportunity,” he says, “the conference continues to increase industry investment in PD therapeutic development across the board, a critical step in bringing new drugs to market.”
Collaborations fostered through Foundation initiatives such as PD Therapeutics have served to inform an industry searching for alternative models of turning new science into potential therapies. With support from nontraditional funding sources like MJFF, industry has become increasingly willing to champion new approaches to Parkinson’s. By de-risking industry investment, the Foundation has continually worked to encourage decision makers to allocate resources to PD. To date, MJFF has collaborated with biotech and pharmaceutical companies on more than 160 research projects totaling more than $77 million in investments.
“Year in and year out, this conference offers an opportunity for the best minds in PD research to network in an intimate environment, and to set up research and business development collaborations,” says Kalpana Merchant, PhD, chief scientific officer of translational science at Eli Lilly and Company, and this year’s conference chair. Merchant says that Lilly has forged relationships at past conferences that informed their thinking about potential partnerships.
It may seem like a no-brainer, to get academia and industry working together on the long and arduous process to bring new drugs to market. And more and more, this kind of collaboration is taking place. But it hasn’t always been the case.
Last year’s PD Therapeutics Conference in particular seemed to mark a turning point in collaboration in the PD field, according to participants.
At the event’s close, conference chair David Weiner, MD, remarked “how much times have changed… We heard academics speaking about drug discovery efforts, and we heard industry members responding in kind, asking questions about particular novel targets to treat PD.”
“The planets are definitely starting to align,” added Malu Tansey, PhD, of Emory University, reflecting on the day’s events.
“All the key players are now ready to work together: Academia, big pharma, and patients alike are collaborating to find a cause and/or a cure for PD. We are now ready to take the next step in driving this research forward.”
This year’s event marks such an important, upcoming next step.
“I’m expecting a very interactive audience come October 24, given recent exciting breakthroughs in the field,” says Merchant. “The knowledge base of everyone in attendance will increase, and I think we’ll all learn a lot about the emerging science in the field, and how viable drug discovery for Parkinson’s disease really is.
“Our collective goal is to address the scientific tractability of new therapeutic approaches in the field, and to determine which ones we should, on the whole, continue to invest in moving forward. These will be the critical takeaways.”
Interested researchers can still register for this year’s event.
Stay tuned to this space for future blogs into some of the key insights from the conference.