Director of Research, Parkinson’s UK
Parkinson’s is the fastest-growing neurological condition in the world, and there is currently no cure.
Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological condition with a variety of genetic and environmental contributors. Loss of dopamine neurons in the brain produce its three hallmark symptoms of tremor, slowness of movement and muscle stiffness.
However, there are more than 40 symptoms affecting the gut, thinking, voice and mental health. Around 145,000 people in the UK are living with Parkinson’s, and it is estimated that 1 in 37 people alive today will be diagnosed with the condition in their lifetime.
Drug discovery and development
The Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech is the international drug discovery and development programme founded in 2017 by Parkinson’s UK, the largest European charitable funder of Parkinson’s research.
It operates as an evergreen seed venture fund but is driven by the priorities of people with Parkinson’s, not investor profit. Collaborative and agile, it adapts successful methods from the business world to deliver new treatments in years — not decades.
Uniting global experts
With international supporters and investments in the UK, US and Australia, the Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech has grown into a global movement uniting scientists, supporters, investors and innovators worldwide. In 2022, a long-term multimillion-dollar strategic partnership with the Parkinson’s Foundation in the US was initiated, which was a key development for the programme.
Currently, the programme plans to provide £50 million in funding over 10 years to help the companies it is working with move their projects forward, but there are hopes that even more will be possible with new funding partnerships.
The primary criterion for project selection is: having a realistic chance of creating a new treatment that addresses one of the top priorities of people living with Parkinson’s. Thus, the programme may take a chance on slightly earlier projects, with more technical risk, than other funds. However, investments are made on the terms that the same kinds of financial returns any other early investor would expect are brought to the patient community.
In just five years, the Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech has supported 13 projects including six clinical trials that are hoping to stop or slow progression or target specific symptoms of more advanced Parkinson’s, including hallucinations, psychosis and dyskinesia (uncontrolled movements).
In a major milestone in 2022, NRG Therapeutics in the UK secured £14 million from other investors, alongside £2 million from the Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech to fund its promising research into treatments to slow the progression of Parkinson’s, after the programme provided it with seed funding over two years.