NEW YORK, NY — As part of its mission to speed delivery of transformative treatments and a cure for Parkinson’s disease, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research has awarded $2.7 million in total funding to six industry research teams. The awards were granted under MJFF’s Therapeutics Development Initiative (TDI) program. Open exclusively to researchers at biotech and pharmaceutical companies, TDI is the cornerstone of the Foundation’s venture philanthropy efforts to spark and expand industry investment in PD drug development. In an increasingly risk-averse research funding climate, TDI helps to push promising candidate therapeutics forward in industry pipelines by allowing the Foundation to share the risk of drug development.
“At MJFF, our job is to do whatever it takes to speed therapeutics development for Parkinson’s disease,” said Katie Hood, CEO of The Michael J. Fox Foundation. “Early on we realized the critical importance of forging financial and intellectual partnerships with industry as well as academic research teams. Our private philanthropy dollars — raised largely from patients themselves — have a critical role to play in ‘de-risking’ therapeutic targets for industry investment in order to keep the most promising ideas moving forward toward clinical testing and pharmacy shelves.”
Funded projects focus on:
- Developing a vaccine that could protect against toxicity of the PD-implicated protein alpha-synuclein (Ingeborg Muehldorfer, PhD, Rentschler Biotechnologie, Laupheim, Germany);
- Improving delivery of the gold-standard Parkinson’s treatment, levodopa, which could lessen debilitating side effects of the drug including dyskinesias, the uncontrollable movements that arise with long-term levodopa therapy (Verne Cowles, PhD, and S. Y. Eddie Hou, PhD, Depomed, Inc., Menlo Park, California);
- Validating a novel metabolomic diagnostic test for PD (Hyman Schipper, MD, PhD, FRCPC, and Peter Roos, PhD, Molecular Biometrics, Montreal, Canada);
- Finding new ways to target the PD-implicated gene LRRK2 (Vicki Nienaber, PhD, Zenobia Therapeutics, San Diego, California);
- Investigating methods to modulate the new PD target GPR88, a protein receptor believed to play a role in dopaminergic function (Thomas Sager, PhD, and Kenneth Thirstrup, PhD, H. Lundbeck A/S, Valby, Denmark); and
- Exploring gene-knockout techniques to protect against oxidative stress implicated in the neuronal loss that characterizes PD (Kenneth Thirstrup, PhD, and Thomas Sager, PhD, H. Lundbeck A/S, Valby, Denmark).
Detailed grant abstracts and researchers’ bios are available at www.michaeljfox.org.
While The Michael J. Fox Foundation has funded industry research teams since its inception, it launched the Therapeutics Development Initiative in 2006 as part of a proactive initiative to capture the attention and imagination of for-profit decision-makers and encourage them to allocate resources to Parkinson’s drug development. In 2007, recognizing the increasing sophistication of many university drug development programs, the Foundation added a one-time-only “academic track” to fund non-industry-based teams working toward transformative PD treatments. The Foundation has committed about $24 million in total funding to industry to date. Slightly less than half of that total (over $10 million) has gone to the 20 projects funded through the Therapeutics Development Initiative thus far.
The deadline for pre-proposals under the next $2.5-million, industry-only funding round of TDI is January 20, 2009. The program will again seek to support preclinical development of Parkinson’s disease therapies with potential to fundamentally alter disease course and/or improve treatment of symptoms above and beyond current standards of care. Proposals must focus on key and critical preclinical studies necessary for developing, optimizing and evaluating therapeutic strategies that if successful can move into human testing. Full information for prospective applicants is available at www.michaeljfox.org.