Parkinson’s Foundation, Parkinson’s UK Partner to Support Research

US group investing $3M in UK's biotech arm to speed current therapy work

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by Mary Chapman |

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Two nonprofits have joined in an international partnership to accelerate the development of therapies for Parkinson’s disease (PD), a neurodegenerative condition thought to affect 10 million people globally.

The Parkinson’s Foundation will invest at least $3 million over the next three years in Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech, the treatment development arm of Parkinson’s UK. The  goal is to support and speed investigations with the greatest potential to become life-altering therapies.

“Drug development is ultimately what will lead to new treatments, but it comes with high risk, high costs, and long timelines,” Arthur Roach, director of research at Parkinson’s UK, said in a press release. “Our innovative approach takes methods from the private sector and venture capital financing and adapts them to the charitable context, allowing us to be agile and tactical in how we invest, monitor, and keep projects moving.”

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Virtual Biotech supports research into Parkinson’s

The Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech is unusual in the nonprofit treatment development space in that it functions like a biotech, but without the costs needed to sustain lab tools and equipment, physical structures, and a full-time staff. It’s led by pharmaceutical and biotech experts who review and identify promising research into potential Parkinson’s treatments from among thousands of studies in progress, each limited in its ability to attract private-sector funding.

For such projects, the Virtual Biotech provides direct investment, oversight, and stewardship, while also scouting for suitable global partners.

It is fast-tracking nine current and promising projects, including the potential of cannabidiol (CBD) — a nonhallucinogenic chemical found in marijuana — to treat the psychosis that is a known Parkinson’s nonmotor symptom.

Other projects are studying whether a common anti-sickness treatment can help with hallucinations, and whether it’s possible to produce treatments that restore mitochondrial function, potentially slowing or stopping Parkinson’s progression. Mitochondria are small structure inside cells that work as their powerhouse, supplying energy.

“We are pleased to partner with Parkinson’s UK to further drug discovery development as part of our newly established Venture Philanthropy Fund that will help the international Parkinson’s community,” said John L. Lehr, president and CEO of the Parkinson’s Foundation. “This collaboration will help us better serve people living with Parkinson’s today while furthering the promise of a cure tomorrow.”

The collaborative approach, Roach said, could lead to new treatments available within years, rather than decades.

“This is an exciting new phase for the Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech,” he said. “We’ve been growing steadily and are starting to see the first successes from the early projects we’ve invested in over the last five years. But we’ve always known that there is much more to be done than we can manage on our own, and hoped that by championing this innovative approach, we could inspire others to collaborate with us in this next phase and create a truly international movement.”

To date, Parkinson’s UK has invested more than $19 million (about £16 million) in Virtual Biotech projects since the biotech’s founding in 2017.

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