Fox Foundation Awards AC Immune New Grant to Advance Alpha-Synuclein Imaging Agent

Catarina Silva, MSc avatar

by Catarina Silva, MSc |

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The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) has awarded AC Immune a new grant to further the development of tracer compounds for Parkinson’s disease (PD).

Specifically, this award continues MJFF support for AC Immune’s alpha-synuclein positron-emission tomography (PET) tracer program, aiming for an accurate imaging agent of the alpha-synuclein protein clumps in nerve cells of the brain that are thought to underlie Parkinson’s development and progression.

Positron-emission tomography (PET) is a non-invasive imaging technique that enables the visualization of the metabolic processes in the body. A PET tracer that is alpha-synuclein specific would allow scientists to study the distribution and alterations of these toxic clumps as the disease progresses.

AC Immune researchers has identified several PET tracer compounds with high affinity and selectivity to alpha-synuclein deposits. They did so by screening the company’s library of small molecules for suitable alpha-synuclein PET tracer candidates.

This “molecular collection,” also known as the Morphomer platform, enables the identification of a new class of low molecular weight compounds. This platform, in turn, allows for the generation of small molecules — called morphomers — that specifically bind to misfolded proteins, working to break up the neurotoxic clusters and prevent protein aggregation.

Importantly, these molecules can reach the brains of non-human primates, adding to their potential as a central nervous system tracer.

A lead alpha-synuclein PET tracer candidate, ACI-3024, entered a Phase 1 clinical trial of its ability to capture pathological alpha-synuclein in neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s. The study is assessing the safety, tolerability, and interactions between the body and ACI-3024 (pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics) in healthy volunteers.

Jan Stöhr, PhD, head of Non-Alzheimer’s Disease Proteinopathies at AC Immune, will give an oral presentation about this alpha-synuclein PET tracer program at the Fox Foundation’s 13th Annual PD Therapeutics Conference set for Oct. 15 in New York City.

“We are very proud to be working together with MJFF on our a-syn [alpha-synuclein] PET tracer program, which offers patients the potential for earlier diagnosis of PD and facilitates the development … of imaging agents capable of earlier detection and disease monitoring, as well as the development of a broad pipeline of effective therapeutic candidates focused on the prevention and treatment,” Andrea Pfeifer, PhD, CEO of AC Immune, said in a news release.

The Fox Foundation first began supporting AC Immune’s program for alpha-synuclein-specific tracer compounds in 2015. If the program is successful, it could offer a first imaging agent capable of accurately identifying and monitoring Parkinson’s progression.

AC Immune is also working to develop oral small molecule alpha-synuclein inhibitors, and anti-alpha-synuclein antibodies to treat Parkinson’s and related diseases.

The grant amount was not released.

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