The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) announced today that it has launched a $2 million, two-year research program to accelerate the development and validation of a biomarker for Parkinson’s disease. A biomarker can be likened to a kind of “molecular fingerprint” of the disease and would have a profound impact on patient care as well as research directed toward finding the cause and a cure for Parkinson’s disease.
“Successful leads from our 2002 biomarker program, including one project that applied microarray technology to identify patterns of gene expression in Parkinson’s patients convinced us to keep up the hunt for a biomarker,” said J. William Langston, MD, chief scientific advisor for MJFF and CEO of The Parkinson’s Institute. “We hope this new program, combined with the significant technological advances we’ve seen since we launched our original biomarkers program, will enable us to generate more opportunities in this area. This is a vitally important, yet under-explored research field with the potential to revolutionize research and the Parkinson’s treatment paradigm.”
At present, clinical diagnosis is based on a patient’s medical history and neurological examination, but the rate of misdiagnosis is high enough to have an effect on both research and treatment. Although no biomarker currently exists for Parkinson’s disease, the development of one could enable physicians to — for the first time — definitively test for Parkinson’s. It would be possible to identify individuals at risk early and, ultimately to initiate neuroprotective treatments to slow or reverse the disease.
A validated biomarker is also necessary for the development of neuroprotective therapies. In the absence of a biomarker, pharmaceutical companies have no way to definitively measure a drug’s ability to slow or stop disease progression. It is critical that parallel advances be made to develop a diagnostic test and neuroprotective therapies as each alone would have little impact on patient care.
Further, the existence of a reliable biomarker would not only encourage clinical trials for new drugs but also impact epidemiological studies aimed at finding the cause of disease by decreasing the number of misdiagnosed cases in the study populations. Finally, a biomarker could potentially enable physicians to predict an individual’s response to a particular drug.
Given the highly individual nature of Parkinson’s disease and the possibility that there may be multiple causes, it is likely that several biomarkers will be necessary to fully understand the disorder. The Biomarkers II program will complement projects previously funded by the Foundation in this area. Letters of intent are due by December 20. Funding is anticipated by summer 2005.
The Foundation continues to be the largest private funder of focused research into a biomarker. To date, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research has funded more than $46 million in research aimed at finding a cure for the disease, either directly or through partnerships.