Bottle of pills on the shelf of a pharmacy

New Sheffield based Virtual Biotech programme aims to save brain cells

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We’re investing £100,000 to improve compounds that have the potential to boost the function of brain cell batteries and slow the progression of Parkinson’s.

As part of our Virtual Biotech, we're partnering with researchers at the University of Sheffield to develop and optimise compounds that can boost the function of brain cell batteries. These compounds have the potential to reduce the loss of brain cells and offer a way to slow the progression of Parkinson’s. 

The project builds on a previous Parkinson’s UK-funded research grant, during which researchers first identified promising compounds. With investment from the Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech - the drug development arm of Parkinson’s UK - the aim will be to efficiently drive progress towards new and better treatments.

Protecting brain cells

In Parkinson’s, brain cells that produce a chemical called dopamine are slowly lost over time. Dopamine allows messages to be sent to the parts of the brain that help to coordinate movement. To do this effectively, the dopamine-producing brain cells need to be constantly active. They rely on energy-producing mitochondria, the batteries of the cell, to function properly. Any disruption could lead to dysfunction and degeneration of dopamine-producing brain cells and eventual cell death.

Finding ways to boost the mitochondria may help protect brain cells to ultimately halt Parkinson’s - something no current treatment can do.

In previous work Dr Heather Mortiboys and her team at the University of Sheffield identified compounds that have the potential to improve mitochondrial function in Parkinson’s. However, these compounds also have some less desirable side effects, including nausea and vomiting, making them unsuitable to take forward for people with Parkinson’s. 

Improving compounds to reduce side effects

The aim of this new project is to modify these compounds to maximise their ability to boost the mitochondria and reduce side effects. The compounds will be tested in order to find the best potential treatment to progress along the drug discovery pipeline and ultimately into clinical trials.

Richard Morphy, Drug Discovery Manager at Parkinson's UK, said:

“We are delighted to partner and work with Heather Mortiboys and her team at the University of Sheffield. Through our Virtual Biotech initiative, we are committed to accelerating promising and breakthrough treatments for Parkinson's. 

“This is an exciting new approach that could rescue defective mitochondria inside neurons to prevent dysfunction and degeneration of dopamine-producing brain cells. With 148,000 people living with Parkinson's in the UK, there is a desperate need for new and better treatments for Parkinson’s. We hope the project will identify a superior group of molecules that could one day deliver a life-changing drug for people living with the condition.”

New and better treatments faster

We're committed to finding better treatments and a cure as quickly as possible. We've set up pioneering initiatives to tackle the critical roadblocks, and invest in big ideas that will speed up the process and deliver treatments to the people who need them, faster.