The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research has announced grants totaling $4.6 million to support two studies of neurotrophic factor therapies for PD.
Awarded through the foundation's LEAPS (Linked Efforts to Accelerate Parkinson's Solutions) initiative, the grants will enable leading investigators to build on the knowledge and experience gained from previous trials of neurotrophic factors to help speed this avenue of research toward better treatments for people living with PD. One grantee, the biopharmaceutical company Ceregene, will conduct a phase-two clinical study evaluating CERE-120, a gene therapy product that aims to deliver the neurotrophic factor neurturin to dying dopamine neurons in the brain. The second grant will support a collaborative effort between Biovail Laboratories International SRL and MedGenesis Therapeutix, Inc. to develop a different neurotrophic factor — a glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor, or GDNF — as a potential PD therapeutic.
Neurotrophic factors (also known as trophic factors or growth factors) are specialized proteins that protect and nourish neurons in the brain, including the dopamine neurons that die in PD. Preclinical studies and several early phase clinical trials of trophic factors have shown potential to slow or stop the progression of Parkinson's — a key unmet need for PD patients. But the results from phase two clinical trials have yet to demonstrate the efficacy of neurotrophic factor therapies. MJFF lists neurotrophic factors as a high-priority therapeutic target and has committed approximately $20 million to their development to date.
"MJFF continues to believe in the potential of neurotrophic factors as transformative therapies for people living with Parkinson's disease," said Todd Sherer, vice president of research programs at MJFF. "The foundation's new approach to this area of research is to develop better methods to deliver trophic factors to the appropriate brain regions at the appropriate doses. And that's exactly the focus of the two projects that MJFF is supporting."