Neurodegenerative Disease Surging

Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer’s disease, and it is estimated to affect some 7 to 10 million people worldwide. Two Parkinson’s disease research projects at Danish drugmaker Lundbeck will receive funding from the Michael J Fox Foundation (MJFF) in the order of 5.5m Danish krone (around $1m).

The money will support development of a new antibody-based therapy for Parkinson’s disease which could address the mechanism underlying the disease and slow progression of its characteristic motor symptoms caused by the loss of dopamine-producing neurons in the brain.

The antibody will bind to a protein called alpha-synuclein, which occurs throughout the central nervous system but in Parkinson’s is known to aggregate into clumps – known as Lewy bodies – in the early stages of the disease. It is hypothesised that preventing this aggregation may help stop the symptoms of Parkinson’s from developing.

An analogous approach has been tested in Alzheimer’s disease – with trials of a number of drugs designed to block the formation of clumps of amyloid protein – although to date this has not been successful.

Lundbeck says it has tested a series of anti-alpha-synuclein antibodies and in one case has been able to positively affect symptoms in an animal model of Parkinson’s.

“We are currently unable to offer treatment affecting disease progression, but treatment with antibodies may prove to have this potential,” said Kim Andersen, head of the company’s research operation in Denmark.

The MJFF funding will also support research into a receptor in the brain that could treat motor symptoms without the side effects of current dopamine-based therapies such as levodopa and carbidopa.

Lundbeck already markets a Parkinson’s therapy called Azilect (rasagiline) which acts as a monoamine oxidase B (MAO B) inhibitor, blocking the breakdown of dopamine at nerve synapses. This type of drug is typically used in early-stage Parkinson’s and remains a big seller for the company with turnover of around 1.2bn Danish Krone ($218m) last year.

The new orphan G protein-coupled receptor is found in an area in the brain that has not previously been investigated, and Lundbeck has already developed a series of small molecule compounds that can control the activity of the receptor.

Andersen said the award was “testament to the work we conduct here at Lundbeck,” adding that working with the MJFF will help the company collaborate with “the world’s leading researchers.”

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Gary Chandler is a prion expert. He is the CEO of Crossbow Communications, author of several books and producer of documentaries about health and environmental issues around the world. Chandler is connecting the dots to the global surge in neurodegenerative disease, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, chronic wasting disease and other forms of prion disease.