The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) has granted more than $1 million to Inflazome to fund the development of a brain-imaging probe that may help track progression of Parkinson’s and develop new therapies for the disease.
The funding will help develop a positron emission tomography (PET) tracer specific to a cellular sensor of stress known as the NLRP3 inflammasome, and may enable quick, accurate and non-invasive imaging of brain inflammation, according to Inflazome.
Such a tool could increase the likelihood of success in clinical trials by helping to select suitable patients at the appropriate disease stage, and providing a way to determine whether a treatment candidate binds to the target of interest in the brain, the company believes. The tracer also will help Inflazome determine what doses are needed in clinical trials.
The NLRP3 inflammasome is a multiprotein complex believed to drive chronic inflammation in Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. A recent study in postmortem brains from Parkinson’s patients and mouse models of the disease showed that this inflammasome is activated by aggregated alpha-synuclein, the main component of Lewy bodies, and loss of dopamine-producing nerve cells. Both Lewy bodies and death of dopaminergic neurons are hallmarks of Parkinson’s.
Then, the researchers found that MCC950, an oral small-molecule blocker of the NLRP3 inflammasome, completely suppressed inflammasome activation in microglia, a key cell type in immune responses in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). MCC950 also inhibited alpha-synuclein clumping, prevented the loss of nerve cells, and eased motor deficits in a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease.
In a press release, Matthew Cooper, Inflazome’s co-founder and CEO, said “The Michael J. Fox Foundation is a fantastic organization with a passionate commitment to new science, science translation and candidate therapies for Parkinson’s.”
Cooper, a co-author of the preclinical study and the principal investigator in the newly funded project, also mentioned that Inflazome and MJFF “are fully aligned” to help people with Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases with unmet medical needs. “Their support will help us advance and hopefully validate our disruptive approach to diagnose and then treat patients by focusing on neuroinflammation.”
Jamie Eberling, director of research programs at MJFF, said that having a tool to visualize brain inflammation “may help investigate Parkinson’s onset and progression as well as evaluate new treatments that could alter the course of the disease.” Eberling also said that MJFF “is investing in this research due to the significant potential impact on drug development and patient lives.”