MJFF Grant Supports Research of Brain Inflammation

$4.9 million grant will fund Muna Therapeutics' preclinical research

Patricia Inácio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Inácio, PhD |

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Muna Therapeutics has received a $4.9 million grant from The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) to advance  development of its first-in-class small molecules used to halt neuroinflammation and restore nerve cell function in people with Parkinson’s disease.

The grant will fund preclinical research into small molecules that block the action of Kv1.3, a potassium channel, in microglial cells, which are the brain’s immune cells. Chronic inflammation in the brain (neuroinflammation) is a hallmark of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Evidence shows that microglia cells become overactive during Parkinson’s and are a major contributor of neuroinflammation. High levels of Kv1.3 have been found in microglial cells of mouse models and post-mortem brain samples of people with Parkinson’s or other neurodegenerative diseases.

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“We are very pleased to receive this significant funding from The Michael J. Fox Foundation to fund this promising research which has the potential to significantly improve the lives of people with Parkinson’s. Kv1.3 plays an important role in creating and maintaining neuroinflammation in Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases,” Rita Balice-Gordon, CEO of Muna Therapeutics, said in a press release.

“Reducing neuroinflammation by blocking Kv1.3 has tremendous potential to slow or prevent neurodegeneration and disease progression,” she added.

Muna’s small molecule platform is expected to lessen neuroinflammation and normalize microglia function in patients with neurodegenerative disorders. Powered by artificial intelligence, its small molecule discovery engine combines structural data of target proteins, along with chemical and human cell-based screenings, to identify small molecules that will work as disease-modifying therapies for patients with Parkinson’s disease.

“Fostering a robust and healthy pipeline of therapies to improve the lives of people with Parkinson’s is core to MJFF’s mission. We are proud to support the work of researchers at Muna Therapeutics investigating a potential disease modifying therapy for people with Parkinson’s,” said Brian Fiske, PhD, co-chief scientific officer at MJFF.

The MJFF grant will support research using human cells and mouse models engineered to harbor human microglial cells aimed at furthering the role of the Kv1.3 potassium channel and its inhibition to protect against brain inflammation. The research will be conducted at Muna Therapeutics in collaboration with professor Bart De Strooper at the Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie (VIB) and KU Leuven, Belgium, a scientific co-founder of Muna.

“The studies will support ongoing medicinal chemistry and structural biology efforts as well as extend understanding of the mechanism of Kv1.3 in microglial activation and the role of Kv1.3 blockade, in vitro in human cells and in vivo in humanized mouse models, to achieve the normalization of disease-associated microglial phenotypes, which will enhance neuroprotection,” said Niels Plath, chief scientific officer of Muna Therapeutics.