International project could inform future treatment for Parkinson’s disease.

The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) has been selected to lead a new research study to deepen the understanding of Parkinson’s disease so that better treatments can be developed in the future.

The project, which will be coordinated by RCSI, has been awarded €7m by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) with pharmaceutical industry and patient advocacy partners.

The PD-MitoQuant (quantitative approach towards the characterisation of mitochondrial dysfunction in Parkinson’s disease) project aims to increase understanding of how cells in the brain become damaged in Parkinson’s so more effective treatments can be developed for the 1m people living with the disease in Europe today, including 12,000 people in Ireland.

New treatments need to be discovered

The researchers will focus on parts of the cell, known as mitochondria, that malfunction in people with Parkinson’s. Mitochondria contribute to cell death and neurodegeneration and there is growing evidence of their role in Parkinson’s, but no effective treatments have been developed based on this knowledge.

The EU public-private partnership funding the health research and innovation chose the project as it recognises that new, more effective treatments are urgently needed. The most common drug to treat Parkinson’s used in Ireland is more than 50 years old, and no current treatment can stop, slow or reverse the condition.

The project involves 14 partners from nine countries including academic bodies, SMEs, patient advocacy groups and pharmaceutical companies in the UK, France, the Netherlands and Germany.

The PD-MitoQuant coordinator is Prof Jochen Prehn, RCSI chair of physiology, director of the RCSI Centre for Systems Medicine, and principal investigator at FutureNeuro, the Science Foundation Ireland research centre for chronic and rare neurological diseases.

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

The key PD-MitoQuant investigators based at RCSI are Dr Niamh Connolly and Dr Orla Watters, of the Department of Physiology and Medical Physics, and Centre for Systems Medicine, and they will be focusing their research on Parkinson’s in the coming years.

“While there are therapies currently available for Parkinson’s, they do not improve all symptoms, nor do they slow or prevent disease progression over time,” Connolly explained.

“We hope that a systematic understanding of Parkinson’s developed from this project will lead to improved tools for the early stages of drug development, so pharmaceutical companies can develop new treatments in the future.”

The project kick-off meeting is taking place this month and the project will run for three years, receiving €4.5m in funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme and €2.46m in kind from European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) members and Parkinson’s UK.

“Research that informs improved treatments for patients is at the core of RCSI’s mission to lead impactful research that addresses Irish and international health challenges such as Parkinson’s,” explained Prof Raymond Stallings, director of research and innovation at RCSI.

“RCSI is proud to be the first Irish institution to lead an Innovative Medicines Initiative project, which is a testament to our strong expertise in high-quality neurological research that drives advances to improve the lives of people with life-changing conditions.”