September 14, 2020 (MONTREAL, Quebec) – McGill University today announced it has received a grant from the Agora Open Science Trust’s Medicines for Neurodegenerative Diseases (M4ND) initiative for research that will interrogate the Parkin protein as a potential therapeutic target for the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease. Parkinson’s disease is the world’s 2nd most common debilitating neurological illness after Alzheimer’s disease. It affects as many as 10 million people worldwide, and the economic impact of the illness is estimated at $52 billion US in the USA alone. There is no known cure.
The grant, valued at $90,000, will provide funds for one year of investigation, with the possibility of renewal to support further development of promising early results. Agora’s M4ND initiative, founded through the generous financial support of the Krembil Foundation, seeks to advance new treatments for neurodegenerative diseases using open science.
The McGill-led investigation will focus on the Parkin protein, which plays a critical role in protecting neurons from damage. Ordinarily this protein is inactive, but when damage occurs in neurons, Parkin becomes active and clears the damage. The process of activation is defective in Parkinson’s sufferers. Using X-ray crystallography, the team will attempt to design molecules that selectively bind and activate Parkin, hoping that this approach can restore neuronal damage clearance and ultimately yield new therapies.
Principal investigator on the team is Professor Jean-François Trempe, Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics. “Our group has developed an expertise in X-ray crystallography that, with support of the Structural Genomics Consortium and the Michael J. Fox Foundation, has enabled us to develop a unique understanding of the Parkin protein,” he explains. “The collaboration with Agora will help us find new avenues in the treatment of this disease.”
The funding not only will advance the science but will also advance Agora’s open science approach to drug discovery as an alternative to traditional pharmaceutical business models. Instead of seeking intellectual property protection, Dr. Trempe and his team, with Agora’s support, will make all molecules and associated data generated in the project freely available to the research community.
“Like other areas of market failure in pharmaceutical R&D, neurodegenerative disease drug discovery is ripe for fresh alternatives to siloed, proprietary models of innovation” according to Max Morgan, CEO of the Agora Open Science Trust. “We are truly excited to partner with McGill University, a world pioneer in open neuroscience, and to work with Dr. Trempe and his team to help bring much needed progress in Parkinson’s disease drug discovery using open science.”
About McGill University
Founded in Montreal, Quebec, in 1821, McGill is a leading Canadian post-secondary institution. It has two campuses, 11 faculties, 11 professional schools, 300 programs of study and some 38,000 students, including 8,800 graduate students. McGill attracts students from over 150 countries around the world, with more than 7,700 international students making up 20 percent of the student body. Almost half of McGill students claim a first language other than English, including 38 per cent who claim French as their first language.
About Agora Open Science Trust
The Agora Open Science Trust is a Canadian charity whose mission is to accelerate the discovery and development of affordable new medicines through open science. Its first initiative – M4K Pharma Inc. (‘Medicines for Kids’) – is using open science to drive preclinical development of a novel ALK2 inhibitor for the treatment of diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, a rare pediatric brain cancer. Agora’s Medicines for Neurodegeneration (M4ND) program, recently founded through the generous support of the Krembil Foundation, seeks to advance open science drug discovery for neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease. The Agora Trust’s wholly-owned subsidiary M4ND Pharma Inc. acts as a receptor for the open science development of new therapeutic opportunities that emerge from the M4ND program, with the ultimate goal of facilitating affordable access to new treatments for neurodegenerative disease sufferers.