The European Union recently awarded a $6 million grant to Herantis Pharma for a Phase I-II clinical study of a potential therapy for Parkinson's disease (PD): cerebral dopamine neurotrophic factor (CDNF). The study will be conducted by a consortium of 11 industry and research partners, including Mart Saarma, PhD, of the University of Helsinki in Finland, who discovered CDNF. For nearly a decade, The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) has funded Dr. Saarma's ongoing research in CDNF, which has demonstrated positive results in protecting dopamine neurons in pre-clinical models.
Neurotrophic factors -- such as CDNF -- are specialized proteins responsible for the production and protection of healthy neurons. Parkinson's is characterized by the death of and/or damage to dopamine neurons in the brain. Currently available symptomatic treatments for PD increase the amount of dopamine in the brain by targeting the neurons that produce it; however, as the disease progresses, these drugs may become less effective as more dopamine-producing cells become unresponsive. Previous research of CDNF therapy in pre-clinical models of PD showed that this protein can repair cells that have already been affected. The Herantis Phase I-II study will now test the safety and efficacy of this therapy in people.
The European Union's investment in this CDNF project is an example of our Foundation's de-risking model: supporting early-stage research to enable scientists to build compelling data packages and attract larger funders to advance the most promising Parkinson's therapies.