MJFF and Tau Consortium partner to accelerate the development of new PET tracers

por Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter | October 30, 2017
Alzheimers/Neurology Molecular Imaging PET
May detect early stage
neurodegenerative disease
The Michael J. Fox Foundation and the Tau Consortium recently partnered to co-fund a team of scientists that plan to accelerate the development of new PET imaging tracers.

These tracers will specifically detect alpha-synuclein and tau proteins in the living brain in order to diagnose neurodegenerative diseases in early stages.

"Many industry players have developed tau-directed therapies. They'll need a more diverse collection of tau biomarkers to accelerate these programs," Patrick Brannelly, program director of the Tau Consortium, told HCB News.

Diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Lewy body dementia, multiple system atrophy, progressive supranuclear palsy and frontotemporal dementia involve the aggregation of alpha-synuclein and/or tau.

Over the last decade, the NIH and other grant-making organizations have spent more than $1.5 billion studying the role of tau in neurodegenerative disease.

"Although there's still a lot more to learn, we're beginning to understand that various forms of tau are implicated in different diseases," said Brannelly.

Tracers that detect the location and abundance of those proteins would enable clinicians to make earlier and more definite diagnoses, select subjects for clinical trials more accurately and better assess treatment response.

It's suspected that some drugs fail when tested because the study participants are too advanced in the disease. The new tracer that the team of scientists plans to develop would allow testing in early-stage patients and also allow researchers to assess the biological impact of the drugs.

The team will be led by Dr. Gil Rabinovici of the University of California, San Francisco. Other members include Chester Mathis, director of the University of Pittsburgh PET Facility and Neil Vasdev, co-founder of MedChem Imaging LLC.

Both MJFF and the Tau Consortium have invested significantly in this line of research. MJFF is supporting other projects that are pursuing an alpha-synuclein PET tracer, and announced a $2 million prize last year to the first team to develop a viable selective tracer and agree to make it widely available.

"Alpha-synuclein is a leading biomarker candidate and therapeutic target," said Jamie Eberling, director of research programs at the MJFF for Parkinson's Research. "The ability to visualize alpha-synuclein in the living brain may help understand the pathological differences between these so-called 'synucleinopathies' and test treatments to prevent or degrade the aggregates and slow or stop disease progression."

When asked if there will eventually be a cure for these neurodegenerative diseases, Brannelly said, "We're growing more hopeful, not less. If industry, academia, and philanthropies can continue to collaborate effectively, we'll get there."

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