£1.375 million to rapidly accelerate Parkinson’s drug search

A philanthropic grant from the Edmond J. Safra Foundation will support the establishment of a pioneering multi-arm multi-stage (MAMS) clinical trial platform to quickly assess potential protective therapies that may slow or stop Parkinson’s progression.

Parkinson’s is a progressive condition of brain degeneration resulting in tremors, stiffness and slowness of movement. Existing treatments can alleviate the symptoms, but do not alter the course of the disease.

Co-led by the University of Plymouth and UCL, the Accelerating Clinical Treatments for Parkinson’s Disease project – to be known as the Edmond J. Safra ACT-PD Initiative – will run until 2023. During this period, the project team will design the Edmond J. Safra PD MAMS Trial Platform.

MAMS represents a new approach to clinical trial design which addresses inefficiencies in “conventional” trial models, allowing for multiple drugs to be tested simultaneously and a seamless transition from early to later stage clinical testing. Prospective therapeutics are rapidly eliminated and replaced at the early stage if they are shown not to be effective. Using this platform, 12 drugs can be initiated into a trial over five years – a process which would take 40 years and ten times as many patients using established protocols.

The project will be co-led by Professors Thomas Foltynie and Sonia Gandhi at the UCL Movement Disorders Centre and Dr Camille Carroll from the University of Plymouth, and carried out in partnership with the Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Unit at UCL; leading Parkinson’s researchers from across the UK; people living with Parkinson’s and their care partners; and major UK Parkinson’s charities.

Dr Camille Carroll, Associate Professor at the University of Plymouth, Honorary Consultant Neurologist at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust, and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Specialty Lead for Neurodegenerative Diseases, said: 

“The funding provided by the Edmond J. Safra Foundation will enable a sea change in how we investigate therapies that could slow or stop Parkinson’s progression. We are very pleased to be partnering with colleagues at UCL to realise the vision of developing this trial platform for Parkinson’s.

“Supported by the NIHR, with expertise in trial development and provision of trial delivery infrastructure across UK healthcare, the UK is the right place to deliver this ambitious, world-leading project, which we hope will herald the beginning of the end of Parkinson’s.”

Professor Thomas Foltynie, Professor of Neurology in the Department of Clinical and Movement Neurosciences at UCL, said: 

“We are delighted to embark on this project with the support of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation. Our existing process of ‘one drug at a time’ is far too inefficient, and it is high time that we had a platform capable of assessing multiple approaches simultaneously. This project will revolutionise the way we perform clinical trials of potentially disease-modifying drugs for people with Parkinson’s.”

Mrs Lily Safra, Chairwoman of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation, said: 

“I am so incredibly proud to be able to offer our support to those undertaking visionary research at UCL and the University of Plymouth. I have witnessed first-hand the effects that Parkinson’s has on patients and their loved ones, and I feel great hope and excitement at the prospect of the Edmond J. Safra ACT-PD Initiative identifying the treatments which hold the promise of a brighter future.”

The Edmond J. Safra Foundation has provided significant support for Parkinson's research and patient care at dozens of hospitals and institutes worldwide.

Professor Alan Thompson, Dean of the Faculty of Brain Sciences at UCL, said: 

“The UCL Movement Disorders Centre is part of what makes UCL one of the most productive and highest-impact neuroscience centres in the world. This generous grant from the Edmond J. Safra Foundation highlights the critical role of philanthropy in enabling us to take the next step and build upon more than three decades spent at the frontiers of brain science and neurodegeneration.

“Together with our partners at the University of Plymouth and a community of Parkinson’s expert clinicians and academics throughout the UK, this project can deliver benefits for Parkinson’s patients worldwide.”

Applied Parkinson's Research Group

The Applied Parkinson’s Research Group, led by Dr Camille Carroll, focuses on clinical trials of neuroprotective interventions in Parkinson’s, digital innovation for care and research, and genetic aspects of Parkinson’s.

Find out more about Applied Parkinson's research.

Plymouth Institute of Health and Care Research

From basic research discovering the causes of disease, through to evaluating novel ways of delivering care to the most vulnerable people in society, our thriving community conducts adventurous world-leading research.

Transformation in life course, ageing, methodologies, e-health, technology and interventions in health, social care, lifestyle and wellbeing.

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