Friday, November 17, 2017

More California Millions Sought to Support the 'New Era' of Parkinson's Therapy Research

A "new era" in the search for a cure for Parkinson's disease was heralded this month in an article in a prominent scientific journal that explored research involving more than $52 million and an organization called GForce-PD.

The news was accompanied by a cry for more support for Parkinson's research from the $3 billion California stem cell agency, which has pumped $49 million in Parkinson's studies over the last 13 years.

Jeanne Loring
, director of the Scripps Center for Regenerative Medicine in La Jolla, Ca., and also a participant in the GForce initiative, said this week that CIRM has not supported Parkinson's research at the level of the other enterprises involved in GForce.

In an item she wrote for The Niche, a blog published by UC Davis researcher Paul Knoepfler, she listed $52.3 million in support plus substantial backing from BlueRock Therapeutics, which is financed with $225 million from Bayer AG and Versant Ventures. BlueRock, a Cambridge, Mass., firm, says on its web site, “Our most advanced therapeutic candidate, for Parkinson’s disease, will enter the clinic in 2018.

Parkinson's is a devastating disease that afflicts 10 million people in the world and 125,000 in California. One of those persons, David Higgins of San Diego, currently serves on the board of the stem cell agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). Another, Joan Samuelson, was one of the original board members in 2004 and a fervent but often frustrated voice for Parkinson's research at many CIRM board meetings.

Actor Michael J. Fox, who made TV ads for the 2004 ballot initiative that created the stem cell agency, is also among the those living with the disease. Others with the affliction included the late boxing champion Muhammad Ali and famed semiconductor pioneer Andy Grove

Loring wrote on The Niche about a meeting in Japan earlier this year dealing with the research teams in the GForce project. She said,
"The Kyoto meeting was unprecedented in my experience.  Instead of competing, the four groups cooperated and shared plans for their proposed clinical trials.  We agreed to harmonize our trials and stay in communication about our progress.  All of us plan to start clinical trials within two years."
Loring continued,
"Since my team has been recognized by the international GForce initiative devoted to safe effective therapy for PD, we hope that CIRM will follow the example of New York, the EU, and Japan, and invest more in our project to provide neuron replacement therapy for Californians with Parkinson’s disease.
"While we hope to gain more support from CIRM, we are determined to follow through with our clinical trial, with or without CIRM.  It will just be more difficult without their help. The patients and their advocates inspire us, and we won’t let them down."
Loring added more information on Sunday (Nov. 19) concerning CIRM funding. She told the California Stem Cell Report. 
"We started our pre-clinical PD studies in 2011, with funding from Summit for Stem Cell. The first and only funding we received from CIRM for PD research was in 2016. 
"Before 2011, CIRM invested $41,838,336. Since 2011, CIRM has invested $7,357,468. This means that the majority of the funding went to projects that didn’t lead to any translational or clinical applications.  
"There are currently three active grants working on Parkinson’s disease, for a total of $4.9 million. We have the only translational grant, and it will expire in March 2018. All but $650,000 runs out by the spring of 2018. 
"There are no more grants forthcoming for our work. The Scaled Biolabs grant awarded this year is a partnership with us. Birgitt Schuele’s grant is basic research, not a cell therapy. (Below are the three active grants identified by Loring.) 
"Parkinson's InstituteBirgitt SchueleQuest - Discovery Stage Research ProjectsCRISPR/dCas9 mutant targeting SNCA promoter for downregulation of alpha-synuclein expression as a novel therapeutic approach for Parkinson’s disease, $1,931,495 
"Scripps Research InstituteJeanne LoringQuest - Discovery Stage Research ProjectsAutologous cell therapy for Parkinson’s disease using iPSC-derived DA neurons, $2,354,226 and later $4,285,721  
"Scaled Biolabs Inc.Justin Cooper-WhiteQuest - Discovery Stage Research ProjectsA tool for rapid development of clinical-grade protocols for dopaminergic neuronal differentiation of Parkinson’s Disease patient-derived iPSCs, $657,528 "
(Editor's note: An earlier version of this item contained incorrect figures on the GForce initiative.) 
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