£100,000 awarded for research looking at new drug target for Parkinson’s

Parkinson's UK is funding researchers to develop a potential set of drugs against a new target for people with Parkinson's.

Through our drug accelerator award grant scheme, we’ve awarded nearly £100,000 to Professor Michael Johnson and his research group at Imperial College London, for work which aims to develop a new drug for Parkinson’s using a method designed to improve the success of clinical trials. They’re doing this by using a computer-based programme to simulate what might make a good target for new drugs to slow the progression of Parkinson’s.

The drug accelerator award grants provide funding for researchers to generate the essential data and help bridge the gaps needed to help progress their new drug down the drug discovery pipeline. This helps push research forward towards the aim of bringing new drugs to people with Parkinson's in the future.

Improving the success of clinical trials

Sometimes drugs which look really promising in early lab testing, don’t perform as well as expected when they reach the clinical research stage (being trialled in people). This is usually because the new drug doesn’t appear effective, or make enough of a difference when compared to the current available treatments.

Lab research to fully understand the target for new drugs is a vital part of the process for drug development. The more information researchers have ahead of planning a clinical trial the more likely it is to be successful. Simulating how a drug might work ahead of clinical trials is one way of doing this.

What will the researchers do?

Professor Johnson and his team are using a simulation to test the best way to target a protein in the body called GPNMB, which has been linked to Parkinson’s. Previous research has shown that reducing the amount of GPNMB might reduce damage to brain cells by preventing the spread of a protein called alpha-synuclein. Alpha-synuclein has been shown to cause irreversible damage to some brain cells in Parkinson’s, leading to progression and worsening of symptoms.

Using their understanding of how to target GPNMB, they’re now working to develop small drugs called antisense oligonucleotides, and test which ones can reduce the activity of GPNMB most effectively.  This will help decide which drug has the best chance of success in a clinical trial, which would be the next step for this research.

Lead researcher, Professor Michael Johnson, said:

“It is a great honour to be awarded this grant from Parkinson’s UK. A major problem with drug development is that half of all drugs will fail during clinical trials due to lack of efficacy - i.e. the drugs don’t work despite extensive testing prior to clinical trials in people.

“This award will fund us to work with the UK’s Nucleic Acid Therapy Accelerator (NATA) to develop a new type of drug against GPNMB as a potential treatment for Parkinson’s.”