Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA (23rd September 2014)

Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) has partnered with UK-based research charity The Cure Parkinson’s Trust on an initiative to identify new treatments for Parkinson’s disease. The collaboration, called the Linked Clinical Trials (LCT) initiative, is aimed at repositioning medications approved to treat other diseases, which have also shown promise in slowing or reversing Parkinson’s in preclinical laboratory experiments. LCT could significantly cut down on the time and cost of moving new Parkinson’s treatments from the lab to clinical implementation. It also commits both organizations to ensuring the LCT initiative is adequately funded to achieve its ultimate aim of accelerating breakthroughs in Parkinson’s treatment.

LCT is founded on the idea that conducting smaller, more cost-effective trials with similar protocols, patients and outcomes allows scientists to see which repositioned drug is most effective, while also maximizing the number of trials conducted. Likewise, focusing on drugs that have already passed rigorous safety trials to treat other diseases significantly reduces the time and funding required to bring a potentially life-altering treatment to market. Traditional drug discovery has a less than 10 percent success rate, while studies have shown that repositioning drugs that have already passed Phase I safety and toxicology studies has an about 30 percent success rate across drugs used to treat a range of diseases. Currently, it can take more than a decade and can cost more than a billion dollars to move a drug from the lab, through trials, and on to patients. LCT aims to shorten that time frame.

“The Linked Clinical Trials Initiative is a novel approach to an exceedingly difficult problem,” said Dr. Patrik Brundin, chair of the LCT committee, associate director of research at VARI, and director of VARI’s Center for Neurodegenerative Science. “By targeting drugs that already are in use, we have the potential to create real, tangible change for patients on a much shorter timeline.” Large-scale Parkinson’s disease clinical trials are rare because of prohibitively high costs, and lack of reliable biomarkers and models for the disease. This prevents discoveries from moving forward and slows the development of therapies that could positively affect patient health.

The LCT committee is made up of some of the world’s leading Parkinson’s disease scientists and prioritizes existing drugs based on their potential to treat Parkinson’s. Drugs that make the shortlist are then fast tracked into Parkinson’s disease clinical trials. The committee has already narrowed down its initial list to several drugs that hold promise for Parkinson’s patients. One of these drugs, exenatide, is used to treat type 2 diabetes and currently is the subject of an ongoing Parkinson’s disease clinical trial at University College London. In a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease, scientists at University College London showed that patients given exenatide were still doing better than the control group one year after the patients stopped taking the drug, suggesting that the drug can modify the course of the disease.

"As someone who is involved in the quest for a cure for Parkinson’s and has lived with the condition for the past 20 years, I am confident that the Linked Clinical Trials programme represents the most exciting opportunity to find a breakthrough in Parkinson’s research,” said Tom Isaacs, co-founder of The Cure Parkinson’s Trust. “LCT brings together the best science along with the funding, the clinical expertise, and the much needed engagement and influence of patients. The programme ensures there is a carefully planned development strategy for every drug prioritized by the LCT committee, which consists of many of the finest scientific minds in Parkinson’s research today. The fact that all the trials will be on treatments that already have proven safety profiles in other conditions inspires our belief that the LCT programme will quickly generate therapies for Parkinson’s that will at last have the capacity to stop or reverse this illness.”

Brundin and Isaacs signed a letter of intent (pictured above) during the annual Linked Clinical Trials committee meeting at VARI on 22nd September 2014. The collaboration is the culmination of a three-year long effort between VARI and The Cure Parkinson’s Trust to develop the LCT initiative. As part of the agreement, The Cure Parkinson’s Trust and VARI will contribute funding to the initiative.

Click here to read more.