MJFF Assists Nitrome Biosciences’ Pursuit of Parkinson’s Therapies

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by Mary Chapman |

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The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) has awarded Nitrome Biosciences a Target Advancement grant to further the company’s development of therapies targeting Parkinson’s disease.

Specifically, the grant will be used to further Nitrome’s biological studies of a new Parkinson’s drug target.

The therapies are aimed at inhibiting a newly identified enzyme the company calls synuclein nitrase. The company said the enzyme causes or accelerates the nitration — a type of chemical modification caused by cellular stress — and aggregation of alpha-synuclein, a hallmark of Parkinson’s disease. At length, Nitrome will test whether an impeded enzyme can slow or stop Parkinson’s progression.

“We’re immensely grateful to MJFF for awarding this grant to Nitrome. This provides not only critically needed support but also shows interest in our unique approach to Parkinson’s disease drug development,” Irene Griswold-Prenner, PhD, said in a press release. Griswold-Prenner is Nitrome’s founder and CEO. “Additionally, the close connection with MJFF personnel provides important feedback as well as access to information, disease models and reagents.”

MJFF associate director of research programs, Luis M. Oliveira, PhD, calls the alpha-synuclein pathway a “compelling” target for development of Parkinson’s treatments.

“We are glad to support this study to mediate pathology and advance toward treatments that slow or stop disease progression,” he said.

Accumulation of alpha-synuclein, the chief component of Parkinson’s disease Lewy bodies, is found not only in the brain, but in the peripheral autonomic nervous system, which ultimately affects breathing and digestion.

A modified — nitrated — form of the protein can be found in salivary gland tissue of Parkinson’s patients. Because nitrated alpha-synuclein exists in early stages of PD, it could be a promising disease biomarker.

While starting with Parkinson’s, the company plans to use its discovery of the newly identified enzyme class to develop disease-modifying compounds for other neurodegenerative disorders, plus diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

The MJFF is the world’s largest nonprofit funder of Parkinson’s investigations. Its Target Advancement Program focuses on the identification of proteins and pathways involved in the onset and progression of the disease. Typically, such grants are for 12 to 18 months and are valued at up to $150,000. The amount of this grant was undisclosed.

“Highly nitrated and misfolded proteins play important roles in multiple neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,” said Ephraim Heller, chairman of Nitrome’s board of directors. “Nitrome will deploy its platform technology to develop therapies for multiple diseases involving enzymatic protein nitration.”

According to the MJFF, nearly one million U.S. residents will be living with Parkinson’s by 2020. The disease affects 10 million individuals globally.