Ever since the G8 summit on Dementia less than a year ago there has been a huge upsurge in international research activity in the field. In the UK, our friends at MRC Technology (an independent medical research charity which aims to bridge the gap between fundamental research and clinical application) were instrumental in forming a Dementia Consortium to aid drug discovery and help charities, universities and drug companies to work more closely together.
Earlier this year, the MND Association and ALS Association met with MRCT to discuss the possibility of extending the collaborative model across other neurodegenerative diseases such as MND and Parkinson’s disease. This idea has generated a lot of enthusiasm from charities and patient organisations on both sides of the Atlantic, which has resulted in the launch of the Neurodegeneration Medicines Acceleration Program at the Partnering for Cures conference in New York. Find out more about this here.
The aim of the initiative is simple – to identify potentially promising compounds that have been stalled, shelved or parked by the drug companies and provide short-term ‘jump-start’ funding to get them going again.
There are many reasons why drug development stalls in preclinical or clinical stages. Often when drug companies merge the research portfolio is too large and executives will simply take a red pen to the list. Sometimes a company may need to divert resources into a particular drug or disease area that is showing particular promise, which means stopping other activities. Very occasionally a company will make a strategic decision to leave an entire field of medical research.
Of course drug development also stalls when the drug does not perform as well as anticipated in clinical trials, but as we learn more and more about the biochemical pathways involved in the life and death of neurons, so we are beginning to appreciate that there is a lot of commonality across the different diseases. So just because a drug didn’t work in one disease doesn’t mean it won’t work in another.
MRC Technology will act as the lead and co-ordinator for this new initiative, encouraging drug companies to ‘look down the back of the sofa’ to see if they have stalled drug development programmes that, in light of the advances in understanding of neurodegenerative diseases that have occurred in recent years, could be brought back into the developmental pipeline.
Until this happens, we won’t know whether there is anything sufficiently relevant for MND, requiring our investment, as ourselves and the ALS Association will only be called upon to support MND-specific activities. But without the creation of this initiative – the biggest ever coalition of charities united by a shared ambition – we would probably never know.
For details see: http://www.medicinesaccelerationprogram.org/