2020: Year in Review

# # # #

In this end-of-year post, we review the Parkinson’s research that caught our attention at SoPD HQ in 2020.

Month-by-month we will briefly discuss some of the major pieces of research/ announcements that have defined the year and advanced our understanding of Parkinson’s. The list is based on nothing more than the author’s personal opinion – apologies to any researchers who feel left out – and the contents should certainly not be considered definitive or exhaustive.

It was just some of the stuff that made me say “wow” in 2020.

And in the next SoPD post, we will conduct our annual horizon scan and consider what 2021 may have in store for us.

# # # #


Source: PhysicsWorld

More than any other year, 2020 saw the best and worst of us.

It was a ridiculous 365 days (you couldn’t make up half the stuff that happened – e.g. “bleach”), and also one of the most humbling periods of our lives. In many ways we came together and stepped up to face challenges (e.g. the COVID-19 vaccine efforts), and yet at that same time if you listen to any of the 24-hour idiotic noise we have never been so divided. Some of people showed tremendous courage (e.g. the front line medics), and others of us were found to be wanting and learnt how little (if any) fortitude we truly have.

It was a dreadful year, but at the same time one that has been strangely fascinating to experience.

And despite the setbacks brought on by the COVID-19 situation, there has been remarkable progress in the arena of Parkinson’s research and in today’s post we will do both a short and long review of 2020, according to research-related events/publications that we here at the SoPD thought were of note.

THE SHORT REVIEW: A top five

If we had to select a top 5 Parkinson’s research-related events/highlights of 2020, they would be:

Continue reading “2020: Year in Review”

Monthly Research Review – December 2020

At the end of each month the SoPD writes a post which provides an overview of some of the major pieces of Parkinson’s-related research that were made available during December 2020.

The post is divided into seven parts based on the type of research:

  • Basic biology
  • Disease mechanism
  • Clinical research
  • New clinical trials
  • Clinical trial news
  • Conferences/lectures
  • Other news
  • Review articles/videos

So, what happened during December 2020?

In world news:

December 2nd – The United Kingdom approved the Pfizer/BioNTech BNT162b2 vaccine for COVID-19.

December 8th – Nepal and China officially agree on Mount Everest’s actual height, which is 8,848.86m (0.86m higher than previously officially calculated).

December 9th – The SpaceX Starship prototype SN8 made a first test flight – reaching an altitude of 41,000 feet (12,500 metres) – at the company’s rocket facility in Boca Chica, Texas. The flight was a pretty spectacular feat of engineering (the landing not so much).

December 23rd – Scientists from The Wistar Institute (Philadelphia) reported a new class of compounds that uniquely combine direct antibiotic killing of pan drug-resistant bacterial pathogens with a simultaneous rapid immune response for combating antimicrobial resistance (Click here to read more about this and click here to read the press summary).

December 24th – The UK Government announced that the UK ‘decided not to stay in Erasmus‘ under the Christmas eve Brexit deal. The Erasmus exchange programme, which the UK joined in 1987, has allowed approximately 17,000 young UK citizens each year to study and work at universities across Europe, but more importantly has encouraged 32,000 EU students to come to the UK (approximately 200,000 students across the EU take part each year). In January, Boris Johnson assured MPs there was “no threat to the Erasmus scheme”. A replacement UK scheme named after computing pioneer Alan Turing will be set up (backed by £100 million in its first year), but the new scheme is not expected to fund students coming to the UK, which suggests UK universities will miss out on a source of income (>£200m a year – Click here and here to read more about this. (an absolute disaster for small UK universities).

In the world of Parkinson’s research, a great deal of new research and news was reported:

In December 2020, there were 773 research articles added to the Pubmed website with the tag word “Parkinson’s” attached (10,584 for all of 2020). In addition, there was a wave to news reports regarding various other bits of Parkinson’s research activity (clinical trials, etc).

The top 5 pieces of Parkinson’s news

Continue reading “Monthly Research Review – December 2020”

PARP-kinson’s goes chlorogenic

# # # #

For a long time it was been reported that coffee may be able to reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s, but the mechansim by which this association could be occurring has remained elusive.

Now researchers from South Korea have discovered a biological pathway that could help to explain the protective association.

It involves a protein called PARP and a chemical called chlorogenic acid.

In today’s post, we will explore the research suggesting a link between coffee and a lower risk of Parkinson’s, discuss what PARP and chlorogenic acid are, and review the new research that may bring all four topics together.

# # # #


kaldi-adapted-from-uker

Kaldi the goat herder. Source: CoffeeCrossroads

Legend has it that in 800AD, a young Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi noticed that his animals were “dancing”.

They had been eating some berries from a tree that Kaldi did not recognise, but being a plucky young fellow – and being fascinated by the merry behaviour of his four-legged friends – Kaldi naturally decided to self-experiment by eating some of the berries for himself.

The result?

He became “the happiest herder in happy Arabia” (Source).

This amusing encounter was apparently how humans discovered coffee. It is most likely a fiction as the earliest credible accounts of coffee-consumption emerge from the 15th century in the Sufi shrines of Yemen, but since then coffee has gone on to become one of the most popular drinks in the world.

coffee-cup-images-5

Fancy a cuppa? Source: Science-All

Interesting, but what does coffee have to do with Parkinson’s?

Continue reading “PARP-kinson’s goes chlorogenic”

Prevail lands on a Lilly pad

# # # #

2020 has been a dreadful year for most of the world – burdened by the outbreak and consequences of COVID-19. Despite this, there has been a steady stream of biotech acquisitions related to Parkinson’s which have helped to keep morale high in the PD research community.

In October alone, we saw the Portuguese pharmaceutical company Bial purchase GBA-associated Parkinson’s biotech firm Lysosomal Therapeutics (Click here to read more about this) and the acquisition of the inflammasome-focused biotech firm Inflazome was being bought by Roche (Click here to read more about this).

Today brought news of yet another pharmaceutical company – this time Eli Lilly purchasing a Parkinson’s-focused biotech company (Prevail Therapeutics).

In today’s post, we will explore what Prevail Therapeutics does, why Eli Lilly might be so interested in this company, and why it could be an encouraging move for individuals with a sub-type of Parkinson’s.

# # # #


Colonel Eli Lilly. Source: SS

The civil war veteran, Colonel Eli Lilly started his pharmaceutical career in a drug store in Greencastle (Indiana) in 1869.

Several years later (in 1873) he shifted into the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals (in association with John F Johnston). Two years after that, Lily disolved their partnership, sold his assets, and used the proceeds to set up “Eli Lilly and Co” in Indianapolis.

Source: Wikimedia

He started the company in a rented building on the 10th May, 1876. He was 38 years old, with working capital of $1400 and just three employees. The first medicine that he produced was quinine – a drug used to treat malaria.

Since that humble start, the company (now more commonly known as just “Lilly”) has grown to become one of the 20 largest pharmaceutical companies in the world (Source), with offices in 18 countries and products sold in 125 countries (Source).

Lilly was the first company to mass-produce the polio vaccine and it was also one of the first pharmaceutical companies to produce human insulin using recombinant DNA. Lilly is currently the largest manufacturer of psychiatric medications, including Prozac (Source).

Today, the company employs approximately 38,000 people worldwide, and operates through two key business divisions:

  • Human Pharmaceutical Products, which involves the production and sale of prescription medications in the fields of endocrinology, oncology, cardiovascular health, and neuroscience
  • Animal Health Products, comprising the development and sale of treatments for domestic and farm animals

This is all very interesting, but what does any of it have to do with Parkinson’s?

This week the biotech world was alerted to the news that Eli Lilly was purchasing a biotech company that is focused on developing a novel treatment for a subtype of Parkinson’s.

That company is called Prevail Therapeutics.

What does Prevail Therapeutics do?

Continue reading “Prevail lands on a Lilly pad”

TGF-beta: The Parkinson’s superfamily?

# # # #

A lot of Parkinson’s research has focused on a neurotrophic factor called glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor (or GDNF).

But GDNF only represents a small fraction of a much larger class of neurotrophic factors, called the Transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) superfamily.

Recently, researchers have been investigating some of the other TGF-β family members in preclinical models of Parkinson’s and they have been making some interesting discoveries.

In today’s post, we will discuss what is meant by neurotrophic factor, explore who else is in the TGF-β superfamily, and look at two recent reports highlighting family members in the context of Parkinson’s.

# # # #


Different types of cells in the brain. Source: Dreamstime

Glial cells are the support cells in the brain. While neurons are considered to be the ‘work horses’ of neurological function – passing messages and storing memories – glial cells are in the background making sure that neurons are protected and well nurtured.

There are different types of glial cells, including astrocytes, oligodendrocytes and microglia. And each type has a specific function, for example microglia are the brain’s resident immune cells checking up on the health of the neurons while oligodendrocytes provide the neurons with a protective covering (called myelin sheath) which also helps to speed up the signalling of neurons.

A human astrocyte. Source: Wikipedia

Astrocytes provide nutrients and neurotrophic factors to neurons and make sure the environment surrounding the neurons is balanced and supportive. Glial cells are absolutely critical to the normal functioning of the brain.

What are neurotrophic factors?

Continue reading “TGF-beta: The Parkinson’s superfamily?”

Bayer doubles down on Parkinson’s?

# # # #

News today of two biotech companies merging did not cause much of a ripple in the media, but the wider implications of the move are rather significant for Parkinson’s.

Today it was announced that Brain Neurotherapy Bio (BNB) is going to merge with Asklepios Biopharmaceutical (aka AskBio). BNB are currently clinically testing a GDNF gene therapy approach for Parkinson’s, and AskBio is a subsidary of the large Pharmaceutical company Bayer.

This is the same ‘Bayer’ that last year bought BlueRock Therapeutics – a biotech company focused on cell transplantation for Parkinson’s (Click here to read a previous SoPD post about that).

In today’s post, we will discuss what BNB are doing and why this merger is particularly interesting.

# # # #


Source: BBRF

One of the themes this year on the SoPD website has been an effort to highlight (and encourage) more focus on alternative restorative therapies for Parkinson’s. There are a lot of different approaches exploring very different methods of slowing the progression of Parkinson’s, but most of the current clinical efforts investigating restorative therapies are oriented solely around cell transplantation.

What we really need are some novel strategies for replacing what is lost and encouraging re-growth from cells that remain.

Most of the SoPD posts exploring this idea during 2020 have been looking at very blue sky ideas (Click here, here, here and here to read some examples). But we have also been keeping an eye on biotech efforts in this domain, and today we received some interesting news which involved the merger of two biotech companies.

The merger occurred between Asklepios Biopharmaceutical (aka AskBio) and Brain Neurotherapy Bio.

ASKBio is a “gene therapy company dedicated to improving the lives of patients with rare diseases and other genetic disorders“. Gene therapy involves using DNA to treat medical conditions, rather than drugs. The DNA is usually delivered to the tissue requiring correction by carefully engineered viruses.

Brain Neurotherapy Bio is also a gene therapy biotech company that is currently clinically testing a GDNF gene therapy approach for Parkinson’s.

What is GDNF?

Continue reading “Bayer doubles down on Parkinson’s?”

Curasen: Shifting the focus from just dopamine

# # # #

In September, a small biotech company called CuraSen announced that they had dosed the first participant in a clinical trial of their new experimental drug for Parkinson’s.

This news did not garner a lot of attention, but was of great interest to us here at the SoPD because the drug – currently named CST-2032 – is the first of a novel class of drug to be tested in Parkinson’s.

It also represents a shift in our approach to disease modification in neurodegenerative conditions (like Parkinson’s) as the focus moves away from solely being on the dopamine neurons.

In today’s post, we will look at what CST-2032 is, what evidence exists that supports this drug going into clinical trial, and why it might represent a turning point in how we approach the treatment of Parkinson’s.

# # # #


The first thing you notice when you go to the CuraSen website are the words “Think, again“.

A curious introduction to a biotech, but it grabs the attention.

Next – and I don’t want to ruin things for anyone (Spoiler alert!) – the words fade away…

… only to be replaced by: “Rethinking neurodegeneration”

At that point (if you are a curious creature) you start thinking: Ooh, this looks interesting.

And with a little bit of digging, you realise that it is interesting.

Very interesting.

Why is Curasen interesting?

Curasen is a California-based biotech taking a slightly different approach towards neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s.

What are they doing?

Continue reading “Curasen: Shifting the focus from just dopamine”

Monthly Research Review – November 2020

 

At the end of each month the SoPD writes a post which provides an overview of some of the major pieces of Parkinson’s-related research that were made available during November 2020.

The post is divided into seven parts based on the type of research:

  • Basic biology
  • Disease mechanism
  • Clinical research
  • New clinical trials
  • Clinical trial news
  • Conferences/lectures
  • Other news
  • Review articles/videos

 


So, what happened during November 2020?

In world news:

November 2nd – While COVID antibodies do not appear to last very long (similar to seasonal flu), a new study suggests that another aspect of the immune response to a COVID infection can last more than 6 months. Analysis of blood samples from a cohort of 2000+ clinical and non-clinical healthcare workers (including 100 who tested seropositive for SARS-CoV-2) found that virus specific T cells were detectable more than six months after infection (Click here to read the study and click here to read a summary).

November 9th – Potential COVID vaccine #1 – Early data from the Pfizer/BioNTech Phase III trial indicates that their COVID vaccine is 90% effective (Click here to read more about this).

10th NovemberBest. Shot. Ever – During the US Masters practice round Jon Rahm hit an impossible hole in one:

 

16th November – Potential COVID vaccine #2 – biotech firm Moderna announced its coronavirus vaccine is 94.5% effective against COVID-19 (Click here to read more about this).

22nd November – New Zealand-based rocket company Rocket lab launched their ‘Return to Sender’ mission – the company’s 16th Electron rocket mission that deployed 30 small satellites into orbit (to date the company has launched 96 satellites), and they managed to recover the first stage of the vehicle. But more importantly, the flight also carried “Gnome Chompski” into space:

23rd November – Potential COVID vaccine #3 – a coronavirus vaccine developed by the University of Oxford (along with AstraZeneca) was reported to be highly effective (providing at least 70% protection – Click here to read more about this).

In the world of Parkinson’s research, a great deal of new research and news was reported:

In November 2020, there were 885 research articles added to the Pubmed website with the tag word “Parkinson’s” attached (9811 for all of 2020 so far). In addition, there was a wave to news reports regarding various other bits of Parkinson’s research activity (clinical trials, etc).

The top 5 pieces of Parkinson’s news

Continue reading “Monthly Research Review – November 2020”

EDITORIAL: Paywalls

# # # #

Today’s post is a rant about the research publishing industry – explaining the hole they have dug for themselves and us (via profiteering and a lack of innovation), discussing how the research community supports the system, and exploring efforts to solve the problem.

You will be forgiven if you don’t read on, but understand that this subject is important.

# # # #


Source: Fifteendesign

A reader recently emailed me regarding the 500th post with a list of questions. One of which was: if you were not doing Parkinson’s research, what would you be doing?

In a previous SoPD post I have discussed my “Plan B“, but that involves Parkinson’s subject matter so it doesn’t really count here.

If I’m honest, and I wasn’t working in the area of Parkinson’s, I would be doing one of two things:

OPTION  #1:  I would be working for Eric Eisner.

Eric Eisner. Source: Yes

In 1998, Mr Eisner quit a high-flying career in Hollywood deal-making and walked into a forgotten corner of Los Angeles education system.

In the Lennox School District – with the support of the Richstone Family Center – he sat down with a group of 7th graders with the simple goal: identifying underserved academically promising students. Once identified, Mr Eisner would equip them with resources and support to facilitate their success through high school, college, and beyond.

In 2010, a not-for-profit program had grown out of his efforts and it became known as the Young Eisner Scholars (or simply “YES”).

Source: Twitter

I first learnt about this amazing initiative from an episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, Revisionist History, called “Carlos doesn’t remember” (seriously, you should listen to that episode).

Mr Eisner’s YES program is now nation-wide in the US, and in 2017 they were supporting more than 500 students from elementary school through to graduate school (source).

YES is my kind of capitalism, but Mr Eisner needs to think globally – the next Ramanujan is out there.

OPTION #2:  I would be working to help solve the problem of scientific research publishing.

Source: Tsepustuksia

This is a constant source of frustration for yours truly.

At present, large publishing houses control the dissemination of most of the research being generated around the world by keeping it behind pay-to-view paywalls (they also charge researchers an “administration fee” to publish in their journal and insist that they sign over the copyright of the publication to the publisher).

Charging a fee on what should be public information is the worse kind of capitalism: It is rent seeking.

And this week one of the big academic publishing companies made an announcement that made me shake my head.

What did they announce?

Continue reading “EDITORIAL: Paywalls”

Very Keynesian: Cell painting

# # # #

Our ability to grow cells in culture (in petri dishes and flasks in laboratories) has been critical to our efforts to learn more about the biology of Parkinson’s and to screen for novel potential therapies.

Recently, researchers have employed more sophisticated methods of characterising cells in culture, to achieve greater insights. These effort have led to some interesting work from investigators at Google Research and The New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute.

They used a powerful new technique called “Cell Painting”.

In today’s post, we will outline what Cell Painting is, discuss what the new research demonstrates, and explore what their findings could mean for Parkinson’s research.

# # # #


John Maynard Keynes. Source: NYTimes

I recently read an interesting story about the economist John Maynard Keynes.

In 1918 Keynes was working as a Treasury adviser when a friend – the art critic Roger Fry – told him about a sale of impressionist works that was about to occur in Paris. The collection was from the artist Edgar Degas, who had died in late 1917.

Edgar Degas. Source: Wikimedia

With the great war still raging in northern France, intrepid Keynes somehow managed to convince not only the UK Government to give him money, but also for the director of The National Gallery, Sir Charles Holmes, to join him on his mad dash to Paris. They boarded a boat to Boulogne and then travelled by train to Paris, carrying a suitcase containing £20,000 in French banknotes (understand that this is equivalent to £1.1 million in todays money).

As the auction started, Paris was rocked by the sound of German artillery. Many of the hopeful bidders at the auction fled, but Keynes and Holmes stood their ground and secured some incredible bargains (not only for the British Government, but also for themselves – such as a still life with seven apples, by Paul Cézanne that Keynes purchased for himself).

Cézanne’s seven apples. Source: Wikimedia

Upon arrival back in England, Keynes could not carry all of his newly acquired luggage, so he left his Cézanne under a hedge on the side of the road. Upon arrival at their lodgings for the night, he instructed their host that ‘if you’d like to go down to the road, there’s a Cezanne just behind the gate‘.

It was a very Keynesian enterprise as that Cézanne painting alone is probably worth well over £30 million if it went to auction today.

Interesting, but what does this have to do with Parkinson’s?

Nothing, but today’s post is about a different kind of painting, so I thought I’d start off with this little anecdote.

What does painting have to do with Parkinson’s?

Continue reading “Very Keynesian: Cell painting”