Koneksa Wins MJFF Grant to Investigate Digital Biomarkers

Enrollment began in June for a clinical trial to test a tool to quantify Parkinson’s speech symptom severity

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by Patricia Inácio, PhD |

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Koneksa has been awarded a grant from The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) to investigate the potential of digital biomarkers to evaluate and predict disease progression in people with Parkinson’s disease.

Digital biomarkers have the potential to aid in diagnosing Parkinson’s and allowing patients to begin treatment while still in the disease’s early stages.

“There are no current diagnostics to detect progression in early PD or in the prodromal (pre-diagnostic) stage and identifying any predictive digital biomarkers would be a meaningful addition for patients and physicians,” Chris Benko, CEO and founder of Koneksa, said in a press release.

“We are grateful to MJFF and privileged to collaborate on this study. Digital biomarkers are revolutionizing translational science and have proven efficacy, specifically in Parkinson’s disease,” John A. Wagner, MD, PhD, chief medical officer at Koneksa, said. “Predictive digital biomarkers will lead to better diagnosis and hopefully life-saving therapies for patients with Parkinson’s disease.”

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In June, Koneksa and Northwestern University began to enroll patients to a clinical trial – also funded by the MJFF – to evaluate a tool designed to quantify the severity of Parkinson’s speech problems, specifically vocal changes related to early stages of disease progression.

“The Michael J. Fox Foundation continues to fund research efforts aimed at improving the lives of people with Parkinson’s,” Samantha Hutten, PhD, director of Translational Research, MJFF, said. “We are proud to support the work of researchers at Koneksa investigating digital biomarkers to evaluate disease progression, as this is a critical unmet need.”

With the new grant, researchers will analyze retrospective data from the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI) collected while patients were using the investigational sensor-based Verily Study Watch, a wearable device with the ability to collect health data, namely regarding activity, gait, and sleep.

Koneksa will combine its algorithms with specialized machine learning techniques to evaluate the diagnostic potential of digital tools.

The PPMI, launched in 2010 by MJFF, is an observational study aimed at furthering the understanding of Parkinson’s onset and progression by collecting comprehensive data – clinical, imaging, biological, and digital – in people at every stage of the disease, with healthy volunteers serving as a comparative control group.

“Algorithms for analyzing passively-acquired sensor data are a substantial gap in the digital biomarker landscape,” Benko said.

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