The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research recently announced the winner of a $1.5 million prize to continue Parkinson’s research.
- A group of researchers at New Jersey-based pharmaceutical firm Merck & Co have won $1.5 million to further their research after a four-year competition.
- Three finalists were named in 2020 and given a collective $8.5 million to continue researching—Merck, Boston teaching hospital Mass General Brigham, and listed Swiss biotechnology company AC Immune, according to Forbes.
- The remaining $1.5 million was recently awarded to Merck & Co for developing a tool to trace and visualize a protein called alpha-synuclein in human brains which has been linked to Parkinson’s disease.
Why it’s important
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease that affects an estimated 6 million people globally, causing uncontrollable movements, such as shaking, stiffness, and difficulty balancing. Actor Michael J. Fox is a high-profile spokesman for efforts to fight the condition.
Although the disease affects millions, little is known about what causes it or how to treat it.
Famous actor Michael J. Fox, best known for his roles in the Back To the Future trilogy, was diagnosed with the disease in 1991. He created the Michael J. Fox Foundation in 2000 to dedicate funds to finding a cure for the disease, and it is the largest foundation in the country supporting Parkinson’s research.
Since its start in 2000, the foundation has funded around $1.5 billion in Parkinson’s research, according to the foundation’s website. This week the foundation announced the winners of a four-year-long competition called the “Ken Griffin Alpha-synuclein Imaging Competition,” which will receive $1.5 million in research funding.
The competition was launched in 2019 to pursue a game-changing tool in Parkinson’s research. The competition included $10 million, $7.5 million given by Citadel founder Ken Griffin whose father has Parkinson’s disease.
Three finalists were selected for the prize in 2020—Merck, Boston teaching hospital Mass General Brigham, and listed Swiss biotechnology company AC Immune. The three teams were given a collective $8.5 million to continue research.
“These three teams have put us on a path to revolutionizing care for the millions of people living with Parkinson’s disease,” says Ken Griffin in a statement to Forbes. “I care deeply about improving the lives of those touched by PD and am proud to support Michael J. Fox Foundation’s leadership in the pursuit of a cure for this disease.”
The teams developed research to better understand and develop a tracing tool that could be used in a PET scan to identify the alpha-synuclein protein in the brains of living Parkinson’s patients.
The role of the protein associated with Parkinson’s is still relatively unknown. The protein is found in every brain, but in people who have suffered from Parkinson’s, the protein is clumped together and is only found after death.
Tracking alpha-synuclein clumps in the brains of living people with Parkinson’s could potentially help with earlier diagnosis of the disease, easier tracking of the disease, and possibly pairing the patient with a potential future drug, according to Forbes.
The winning team from Merck—led by Helen Mitchell, Ph.D.; Robert Drolet, Ph.D.; and Eric Hostetler, Ph.D.—was chosen because they made the most progress with their protein tracer and will use the prize money to continue research.
The team’s tracer has not yet been used in living humans, but they plan to do so in the next year, which could be revolutionary. The tracer is a radioactive drug that is inserted into a vein, travels to the patient’s brain, binds to the alpha-synuclein, and will then be measured using a PET scan.
“Ultimately, we would like to be able to measure alpha-synuclein in an easier way, in the blood,” says the Fox Foundation’s Jamie Eberling. “The prize had the desired effect of getting more researchers involved. That was why we launched it.”