Potential One-time Gene Therapy for Parkinson’s Linked to GBA Mutations to Enter Clinical Trial

Alejandra Viviescas, PhD avatar

by Alejandra Viviescas, PhD |

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A potential gene therapy for Parkinson’s disease associated with mutations in the GBA1 gene, PR001, will move into clinical testing in patients after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) accepted an application for the therapy, Prevail Therapeutics announced.

FDA acceptance of the company’s Investigational New Drug (IND) application allows Prevail to initiate a Phase 1/2 clinical trial assessing PR001’s safety and tolerability in Parkinson’s patients with disease-causing GBA1 mutations. Prevail expects to open the trial and begin dosing this year.

People with mutations in the GBA1 gene have a higher risk — possibly as high as five-fold — of developing Parkinson’s disease. Even though the exact relationship between both conditions is not clear, it is estimated that 7%–10% of all Parkinson’s cases are related to GBA1 mutations.

The GBA1 gene holds the instructions to produce the enzyme beta-glucocerebrosidase (GCase) that is active in lysosomesspecial compartments within cells that digest and recycle different types of molecules. If beta-glucocerebrosidase does not work as intended, toxic substances accumulate inside cells, particularly as people age, leading to excessive inflammation and —probably — the neurodegeneration seen in Parkinson’s disease.

PR001 is intended to be a disease-modifying and single-dose gene therapy for patients with mutations in this gene. It uses a modified and harmless version of an adeno-associated virus (AAV9) to deliver a fully working copy of the GBA1 gene to nerve cells. This should allow for long-lasting expression of functional beta-glucocerebrosidase, easing disease symptoms caused by the mutated gene.

AAV-9 has been widely used in various gene therapies both approved and in clinical testing, including Zolgensma, a recently approved gene therapy to treat spinal muscular atrophy. The viral construct appears to be safe and can effectively cross the blood-brain barrier, a semipermeable membrane that separates blood from cerebrospinal fluid and protects the brain from viruses and other “invaders” entering via the bloodstream.  

“We are pleased that the FDA has accepted the IND for our first program, which we believe has the potential to transform the lives of patients with Parkinson’s disease with a GBA1 mutation,” Asa Abeliovich, MD, PhD, founder and CEO of Prevail, said in a press release.

“At Prevail, our goal is to halt the progression of serious neurodegenerative diseases by applying precision medicine to the development of gene therapies. Our active IND brings us a step closer to achieving that goal, and we look forward to entering this new phase as a clinical-stage company,” he added.

Prevail, based in New York City, was founded in 2017 through a collaboration between Abeliovich,  OrbiMed and The Silverstein Foundation for Parkinson’s with GBA.