From innovation to better treatments

Parkinson’s UK has announced partnerships with two European-wide research projects. We discover how these collaborative projects aim to accelerate research and deliver new treatments for Parkinson’s.

Dr Beckie Port
May 27 · 6 min read

Medical research is complex. Historical discoveries based on serendipity — such as the discovery of penicillin and the development of the smallpox vaccine — have all but dried up. Today, most medical advancements are the results of painstaking, coordinated investigations based on biological understanding. But translating these advances into novel therapeutics takes time; time that our ageing societies and underfunded healthcare systems do not have.

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What is becoming apparent to medical scientists is that, despite decades of increasing our understanding of the human body and diseases, there is still much we do not know. These gaps in our knowledge impact on our ability to develop new treatments for every unmet need and chronic condition currently facing our society.

The challenge of filling these gaps is massive and cannot be undertaken alone. Everyone from pharmaceutical and university researchers to public authorities, charities and governments have a role to play in the delivery of new and better treatments.

Medical research is multinational; scientists from all over the world are collaborating every day. Researchers from different nations feature as co-applicants on grants, they regularly attend international meetings that foster collaboration and often write up research results together before publishing them in academic journals that can be accessed all over the world.

And yet much of the time, work is done in isolation. And this ultimately slows the pace of progress. Resources and technologies that could benefit many different projects are not shared, and data and skills that should be applied across the board remain out of reach.

We know research is more effective when cooperation and sharing of knowledge are supported. And more effective research means faster development of innovative medicines, and ultimately improvements in health. So to foster collaboration, there are various national and international initiatives that aim to support the transfer of knowledge, data, skills and resources to speed up research — one of the largest is the Innovative Medicines Initiative.

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The Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) is the world’s largest public-private partnership in life sciences — its funding comes from EU taxpayers and pharmaceutical companies. This unique partnership supports collaborative European research projects to overcome challenges for many different health conditions and boost pharmaceutical innovation in Europe.

To date, the outcomes from IMI projects have been impressive. They have delivered research that will shape the way we tackle some of the most challenging conditions and unmet needs in healthcare. But perhaps the most important outcome is the way the initiative has brought together various stakeholders, some of whom might otherwise be in direct competition, to work towards shared goals. Through the IMI, experts from all over Europe can collaborate on a neutral playing field to deliver patient benefits. The IMI also encourages researchers to engage with the public, to help make sure that the research meets the needs of those who could benefit the most.

As well as assisting collaboration, the IMI has a role in focusing resources towards conditions that cause the greatest burden to society. The current IMI strategic research agenda, IMI2, will run until 2020 and has 12 priority areas including neurodegenerative diseases.

There are a number of Parkinson’s related IMI projects, such as the recently launched MOBILISE-D project. This multi-million pound project aims to develop a system of small sensors worn on the body to monitor and assess walking throughout the day. The work is being led by Parkinson’s UK researcher, Professor Lynn Rochester at Newcastle University.

And now we’ve announced the launch of two new IMI projects — PD-MitoQUANT and Neuronet.

As an IMI consortium member, Parkinson’s UK has played a key role in bringing attention to a key knowledge gap in Parkinson’s — the role of mitochondria.

Mitochondria are the cell’s energy-producing batteries. They move around inside all the cells of our bodies, dropping energy off where it is most needed. But, just like regular batteries, they can get worn out. And they only have a limited number of recharges before they need to be replaced. In Parkinson’s, a combination of the high energy demands of brain cells, coupled with problems recycling mitochondria can lead to energy starvation and eventually the loss of cells.

Parkinson’s UK has a long history of involvement in mitochondrial research. In fact, back in 1989, it was research funded by the charity that first demonstrated that in the area of the brain affected by Parkinson’s, the mitochondria were malfunctioning. But while our understanding of mitochondrial function has dramatically increased since those early studies, researchers and companies developing new drugs for Parkinson’s need to know more.

In order to design drugs that may one day stop the progression of the condition, they need to understand how problems with the mitochondria contribute to the spread of Parkinson’s. And then they need to find ways to intervene — by finding targets that show potential for drug discovery. Finally, they need better models to help them develop and test these new treatments.

The €7million (£6million) PD-MitoQUANT IMI project brings together academic experts, businesses and pharmaceutical companies from the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) and Parkinson’s UK to achieve these aims and open the door to new treatments that do more than just mask the symptoms of the condition.

Professor David Dexter, Deputy Director of Research at Parkinson’s UK, said:

“This unique collaboration will provide a greater insight in the role of mitochondria in Parkinson’s and will hopefully play a key role in the development of new drugs to support mitochondrial function.”

PD-MitoQUANT Coordinator, Prof. Jochen Prehn of RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) said:

“This project will join forces with top scientists in academia and industry across Europe to bring a fresh look on how we identify and test novel drugs for the treatment of this devastating movement disorder.”

You can find out more about this project and sign up to receive the latest news on the project website at www.pdmitoquant.eu

We recently announced our partnership in another IMI project — Neuronet. The main aim of this €2.3million (£1.9million) project is to provide a platform to boost collaboration between different IMI projects tackling neurodegenerative conditions, including Parkinson’s.

Today, an estimated 9 million people in Europe live with a neurodegenerative condition, such as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or Parkinson's, and that number is increasing.

Neuronet will provide a platform to allow scientists to take a big-picture view of the neurodegenerative research field. The aim will be to identify gaps, support collaboration and assist in the sharing of best practice, and ultimately ensure that new treatments are developed and delivered without unnecessary delay. It will do this by creating links between Innovative Medicines Initiative projects and other international research initiatives so that findings from one project can quickly benefit another.

Dr Pierre Meulien, Executive Director, Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), said:

“Neurodegenerative diseases are an area of major unmet medical need and have been a priority for IMI since the very beginning. By bringing together IMI’s excellent projects in this important area, Neuronet will help the projects to collectively make progress and give new hope to the millions of people in Europe and beyond who are affected by these diseases.”

Jill Gallagher, Clinical Development and Regulatory Manager, said:

“Our mission at Parkinson’s UK is to deliver new and better treatments as quickly as possible. The Innovative Medicines Initiative is a major contributor to neurodegenerative research and we believe the Neuronet platform will play a key role in aiding progress towards new treatments for conditions such as Parkinson’s.”

You can find out more about this project and sign up to receive the latest news on the project website at imi-neuronet.org


The projects featured have received support from the EU/EFPIA/Parkinson’s UK Innovative Medicines Initiative 2 Joint Undertaking Neuronet grant n°821522 and PD MitoQUANT grant n°821513.

The material presented and views expressed here reflect the author’s view and neither IMI nor the European Union, EFPIA, or any Associated Partners are responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.

Parkinson’s UK

Get the latest research news, discover more about Parkinson’s and read about how others are getting involved. For information and support, visit www.parkinsons.org.uk

Thanks to Lynn Duffy.

Dr Beckie Port

Written by

Research Communications Manager at @ParkinsonsUK. Ex-researcher in oncology and virology.

Parkinson’s UK

Get the latest research news, discover more about Parkinson’s and read about how others are getting involved. For information and support, visit www.parkinsons.org.uk