MJFF Announces $10M Challenge to Develop Critical Research Tool for Parkinson’s

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by Mary Chapman |

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With the aim of opening entirely new avenues in Parkinson’s disease research and care, The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) has announced a $10 million contest to drive development of an imaging tracer that would be used to see alpha-synuclein protein in the living brain.

Called the “Ken Griffin Alpha-synuclein Imaging Competition,” the project will award $8.5 million to up to three investigative teams. After two years, the team that makes the most progress will receive an additional $1.5 million to continue. The application deadline is Jan. 17, 2020.

Development of such a critical and, so far, elusive research tool would be a game changer for Parkinson’s. Of the roughly 10 million patients globally, nearly all have accumulations of the protein in their brains. Investigators believe these alpha-synuclein masses negatively affect cells and cause disease symptoms. The problem is the clumps are visible only after patients die, through post-mortem studies.

The competition to produce technology for the living brain is largely funded by a $7.5 million gift from Ken Griffin, founder and CEO of the investment company Citadel.

“Providing researchers and clinicians with the ability to detect and monitor disease would be revolutionary for the field and, most importantly, for patients,” said Todd Sherer, PhD, MJFF CEO, in a press release. “Ken Griffin’s gift invigorates research toward this important tool, which will make a meaningful impact in the lives of everyone touched by Parkinson’s.”

The MJFF has been at the fore of efforts to develop a positron-emission tomography (PET) tracer. It has sponsored independent research and organized a consortium around it. Three years ago, the MJFF announced it would award $2 million to the first team to reveal clinical proof of a tracer and share it with researchers at large. That challenge continues.

Meanwhile, at the organization’s 2019 PD Therapeutics Conference on Oct. 15, biotechnology company AC Immune will present  findings from its MJFF-supported tracer study.

The Ken Griffin award announcement is expected by April. The MJFF is encouraging applications from multidisciplinary teams, and is particularly interested in collaborations between academic and industry groups that have access to diverse compound libraries.

“The Michael J. Fox Foundation has led the charge in advancing ground-breaking research in this field over the past 20 years,” Griffin said. “I hope this partnership with the Foundation will bring us closer to a cure for the millions of people living with Parkinson’s disease.”

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