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A Legacy of Progress: Reflecting on 15 Years of Hosting the Parkinson's Disease Therapeutics Conference

MJFF's PD Research Conference Spotlights Field-wide Advances

This year marked a significant milestone in the field of neurodegenerative research as scientists and industry groups from around the world gathered for The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) 15th annual Parkinson’s Disease Therapeutics Conference (PDTC). With over 170 institutions represented in the room and more than 270 attendees, this conference provided a platform for field experts to reflect on the progress made in recent years. 

Small Origins and Big Dreams 

MJFF hosted the first PD Therapeutics conference in October 2006. Sohini Chowdhury, chief program officer, MJFF, explained in her introduction at this year’s conference how different the landscape of PD research looked then, “The link between alpha-synuclein genetic mutations and PD was only established nine years prior. The connection between LRRK2 and PD had only been recognized two years earlier. It would be another five years before DaTSCAN received FDA approval, marking the first attempt at an objective PD marker.”  

She added, “Efforts to address the disease's heterogeneity primarily involved categorizing patients based on their predominant symptoms, such as tremor or PIGD (postural instability and gait disorder). The pipeline for disease-modifying treatments was limited, and longitudinal data from patients were scarce.” 

Fast forward to 2023 and we are in a vastly different space. Over the past 15 years, the Foundation made significant progress in its focus on patient-centered research and PD pathology. This year’s PDTC program provided additional insight, covering advancements in the therapeutic pipeline, emerging therapies and innovative approaches to tackle the complexities of the disease through talks, panel discussion and poster presentations. 

Notable advancements since the first PD Therapeutics Conference:  

  • MJFF's landmark study, Parkinson's Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI), has anchored advancements in disease knowledge and therapeutic research to those living with the PD.  

  • Multiple alpha-synuclein-targeting therapies are in clinical testing. 

  • LRRK2 and GBA-targeted therapies are in clinical testing.  

  • MJFF’s ongoing efforts have identified over 100 companies working on PD therapies, with some in clinical trials and more than half concentrating on disease modification and addressing cognitive issues.  

  • Validation of the first biomarker capable of detecting abnormal alpha-synuclein in living individuals – the synuclein seeding aggregation assay (SAA).  

  • A new and common genetic risk factor of PD in individuals of Western African ancestry. 

Collaboration and Future Directions 

One recurring theme throughout the conference was the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration. The scientific achievements and discoveries made over the past 15 years would not have been possible without the help of experts across the field.  

The importance of ongoing research to better understand Parkinson’s cannot be overstated. While no cure for Parkinson’s disease had been found yet, the collective efforts of the scientific community continue to provide hope for improved treatment and, ultimately, a world without the disease.  

Further your Parkinson’s research and explore the many resources MJFF offers to researchers by visiting here.   

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