Research Team Reviews This Year’s Progress and Promise of 2016

After raising more money than any single year prior thanks to our generous Parkinson's community, The Michael J. Fox Foundation was in the position to fund a record-breaking amount of critical research grants in 2015. When we ultimately find a cure for Parkinson's, we'll look back on this past year and remember several key moments that helped us get there.

We asked some of MJFF's Research team of PhD neuroscientists and business-trained project managers what Foundation accomplishments they are most proud of from 2015 and the promising initiatives they're looking forward to in the new year.

Meredith Haupt
Senior Associate Director, Research Partnerships

In 2015 we received more applications and funded more research grants than ever before with $71.8M in new commitments. We're reaching not just leading researchers in the Parkinson's disease (PD) field, but new contacts and those who have promising ideas in other fields that could inform our understanding or treatment of PD. This amazing response is a result of work across the Foundation, not just in research but with the support of teams working on community outreach, industry engagement and fundraising.

Sohini Chowdhury
Senior Vice President, Research Partnerships

Any advance in the treatment of Parkinson's requires patient involvement in key clinical studies. The excitement and already overwhelming involvement surrounding our online study Fox Insight and the wearable data collection partnership with Intel shows that patients are willing to explore how they can participate. Studies that are no longer geography-driven enable us to engage more people online where we can more gather and analyze more data and more quickly share results.

Katie Kopil, PhD
Senior Associate Director, Research Programs

We're making strides in our work to measure alpha-synuclein outside of the brain. This protein clumps in cells of people with Parkinson's so it's both a top therapeutic target and a potential biological marker of the disease process. The data available in 2016 will apprise future clinical trials about who to include in studies and how to measure the impact of new therapies.

Our biomarker portfolio also celebrated the five-year mark of the MJFF-led Parkinson's Progression Markers Initiative. We've expanded to new cohorts, and it's been able to inform so many new and different studies, including, for example, those involving cognition. The study is not just a flagship design for the Foundation, but for the entire field. It's a great centerpiece for how we fund research across the spectrum of Parkinson's disease.

Marco Baptista, PhD
Senior Associate Director, Research Programs

MJFF 2015 efforts in LRRK2 research showcase how competing companies can work together in an unprecedented manner to answer big questions and facilitate drug development. LRRK2 is another target for Parkinson's researchers, and the Foundation brought together companies working on drugs against LRRK2 to test the potential of this avenue of treatment.

Terina Martinez, PhD
Associate Director, Research Programs

One major priority area of the Foundation is to provide researchers with tools for laboratory studies. In 2015 we developed and launched an alpha-synuclein protein collection and quickly 'sold out' showing what a massive service it is for the community. We've already started investing in scaling up the stocks in the first quarter of 2016. Our tools portfolio for next year already represents as much research as the last three years combined!

Todd Sherer, PhD

I'm excited by how many new treatments that might target the progression of the disease are now in clinical testing. Our efforts around biomarkers in 2015 are tremendously improving our ability and process for assessing these treatments. We're able to really target the underlying disease, which has great potential to slow down the disease – the most opportunities we've ever had for Parkinson's.

One of the biggest things for research in 2016 will be getting the right tools in place to measure these biomarkers we're identifying. I'm enthusiastic about the work being done to develop an alpha-synuclein imaging agent to visualize the protein in the brain.

Jamie Eberling, PhD
Senior Associate Director, Research Programs

The most exciting thing this year was the number of alpha-synuclein therapeutics that are now in the clinic or close to the clinic. The number of different companies that are interested in these therapeutics and the amount of unique approaches being tested is helping us get closer to a treatment to slow or stop disease.

It's critical that we have an alpha-synuclein imaging agent in order to test these drugs in the clinic. In 2016 I think we'll see significant progress. We're funding five programs in this area, and at least one, if not more, will be testing in humans next year.

Kuldip Dave, PhD
Director, Research Programs

There is so much activity with alpha-synuclein therapeutics. Four trials in clinical testing and two with data that their approaches are safe and tolerable is huge progress.

Through our research in 2015, we've been able to identify clear gaps in knowledge, and we're strategically working to fill those gaps. We know that alpha-synuclein clumping in the brain is a culprit of Parkinson's, we just don't know which type of alpha-synuclein. In 2015 we funded several studies targeting the toxic species of this protein. Our Linked Efforts to Accelerate Parkinson's Solutions (LEAPS) study model enables researchers to compare findings to validate one another's results.

Also, by studying gene mutations, we learned that more needs to be done to collect data on the link between PD and a mutation in the GBA gene. We've developed a GBA roadmap, and it's now a priority area for us in 2016."

With so much accomplished this year, the research community is already looking ahead to 2016 to continue the momentum and move closer to our ultimate goal: a world without Parkinson's.

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