Parkure is a new company putting academic research into action and searching for drugs that stop the neurodegeneration process in Parkinson’s disease. Founded by University of Edinburgh researchers and biotechnology experts, our aim is to find new drugs that could lead to a cure for Parkinson’s disease. We are going to start by looking among the drugs that are already available in the market, a strategy also known as repurposing.
Using fruitflies to discover new drugs
We are going to search for new drugs using whole organisms, more specifically fruitflies. The fruifly, although humble, has been used as a model organism in neuroscience for decades. By testing drugs on these fruitflies, which have been genetically engineered to develop Parkinson’s disease, we can identify the ones that have positive effects and begin more detailed biochemical studies on them. Secondary tests will ensure that the drugs function in the human context (Figure 1).
The flies produce a key protein believed to be involved in Parkinson’s disease in their brains – human alpha-synuclein – and develop symptoms. Using this simple approach, we hope to identify drugs with effects on alpha-synuclein or other relevant pathways that are more likely to halt neurodegeneration, rather than just symptomatic treatments in the dopaminergic system. Also the results are more relevant than those of more traditional methods based on testing drugs using in test tubes. Parkure’s CEO Dr. Lysimachos Zografos explains: “By using whole animals we can test within the context of a living organism rather than on a glass chip. Initial results show promise. We are already following up a couple of drugs but we have many thousands more to test”.
Repurposing as an approach to drug discovery
We will initially focus – but not limit our search – on already marketed drugs, an approach known as drug repurposing. This means that any discoveries can be developed faster since more is known on drug safety. Repurposing is based on the observation that drugs, regardless of the indication they were developed for, might also have unintended effects that may be helpful for treating other conditions. The challenge with repurposing is to have a test that is good and fast enough to go through all the drugs and fruitflies can be the answer to that.
A famous repurposed drug is Viagra. Originally developed to treat angina, its side effects were observed and it was decided to be trialed for treating erectile dysfunction, a field which it then dominated. There are also a few example of serendipitous “repurposing” in Parkinson’s disease specifically. These include drugs as old as amantadine (originally an anti-influenza drug) up to more recent discoveries of antiepileptic drugs that are now on clinical trials. “The difference with our method is its systematic nature and organized approach”, Zografos explains.
Crowdfunding and drug discovery
Parkure will be doing a crowdfunding campaign in the autumn of 2014. Crowdfunding is a new way of allowing the public to fund projects of interest and has been successfully used to fund research for rare diseases. It’s worth noting that so far the amounts raised for research are significant. For example a campaign for Kawasaki syndrome diagnostics, which affects 9-19 of 100,000 children under 5 years of age, raised >$250,000. Diseases with larger prevalence, like Parkinson’s disease, could develop a larger momentum resulting to raising amounts that suffice for a very significant amount of research. “Using crowdfunding for more widespread diseases means that those with an interest in solving the problem are more likely to see it solved”, Zografos concludes.