Parkinson's UK invests in development of potential new drugs to protect brain cells using mitochondria

We're providing £1.6m through our Virtual Biotech programme to develop a potential new treatment targeting mitochondria to protect brain cells in Parkinson's patients.

Parkinson's UK is partnering with US company Lucy Therapeutics and the Michael J Fox Foundation to accelerate the development of new drugs targeting mitochondria, the tiny powerhouses inside our cells. 

If this project is successful, the treatment will be ready to move towards clinical trials in people.

Why mitochondria could be the key to Parkinson's

Mitochondria are the key to nearly every process inside cells, unlocking communication between cells, delivering the energy needed to live and directing cell growth and death. 

We know mitochondria become damaged in the dopamine-producing brain cells lost in Parkinson's. 

Cells with damaged mitochondria - especially brain cells - may not have enough energy to function properly, ultimately leading to cell death. 

Drugs to repair mitochondria could save dying brain cells and stop the progression of Parkinson's.

Towards drugs that restore mitochondria

The team at Lucy Therapeutics has developed exciting molecules targeting a key protein within mitochondria. 

Experiments show these molecules can improve mitochondrial function and prevent the death of brain cells. 

Experiments suggest these molecules can reduce levels of alpha-synuclein, a protein that builds up in Parkinson's and causes damage to dopamine-producing brain cells. 

This new investment will help Lucy Therapeutics study their molecules' ability to:

  • reduce alpha-synuclein and other markers of Parkinson's 
  • provide evidence of cell protection
  • travel through the body to reach the brain
  • not produce significant side effects.

Crucial next steps will focus on taking the best molecule into further testing to get closer to clinical trials.

Major potential to slow or stop Parkinson's

Arthur Roach, Virtual Biotech Director at Parkinson's UK, said:

"We are delighted to be working with Lucy Therapeutics to accelerate the development of an extremely promising new treatment for Parkinson's. 

"Mitochondria play a crucial role in the development of the condition, so fixing mitochondrial problems could have far-reaching benefits.

"We hope this collaboration will produce a new drug that can be rapidly moved forwards into clinical trials in people with the condition."

Amy Ripka, CEO at Lucy Therapeutics, said:

"Mitochondrial damage both in and outside of the brain may help explain the earlier symptoms of Parkinson's, such as loss of smell and sleep disorders, as well as the later symptoms including movement disorders and loss of dopamine.

"We're really excited to be working with Parkinson's UK to take our programme forwards."