UK-based Dementia Consortium announced that it will grant £500,000 ($790,000) in funding to a collaborative research effort that includes academics from the University of Southampton and drug discovery specialists from the medical research charity MRC Technology. The newly-funded project will focus on targeting the immune system in order to develop new therapeutic options to treat Alzheimer’s disease.
A team led by Dr. Diego Gomez-Nicola will base its research on the recent finding that the protein CSF1R found in the immune system may be crucial for the development of effective treatments for Alzheimer’s. In collaboration with MRC Technology specialists, the researchers will seek to study the brain’s response to nerve cell death and develop novel therapies, focusing on the inflammatory response of the brain that is disturbed by the disease, provoking further neurological damage.
Dr. Gomez-Nicola, who serves as Career Track Lecturer and MRC NIRG fellow at the University of Southampton, explained in a press release that, “inflammation is the body’s response to damage and something we’ve all experienced but sometimes these mechanisms to defend the body go awry. In Alzheimer’s disease, specialised immune cells called microglia are a little too eager to clear damage. Their ranks swell and activity increases, with damaging consequences for surrounding nerve cells.”
“This project will allow us to find the best way to interfere with the biological cascade that leads to an increase in microglia numbers. We know that targeting CSF1R is being explored as a potential treatment for cancer and inflammatory conditions, and we hope that by fine-tuning compounds to act specifically in the brain, this approach could be tested for benefits in Alzheimer’s too. This crucial drug discovery work in cells and mice should act as stepping stone to develop new treatments that can halt damaging brain inflammation and nerve cell death,” he added.
CSF1R is crucial for brain regulation of the immune response, and the protein has been previously examined by the Southampton investigators in studies on mice. The research revealed that when CSF1R is blocked, the inflammatory response to nerve cell death can be dampened, which may improve the symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases. The blockage of the protein was accomplished, however, using compounds that create unwanted effects, so the team plans to seek out other means to block CSF1R.
“It’s been fascinating to see the academic community dissect the role of inflammation in Alzheimer’s disease and learn more about the ‘friendly fire’ that takes place during the course of the disease,” said the Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, Dr. Eric Karran. “But now we need to translate this interesting biology into tangible benefits for the 500,000 people in this country living with Alzheimer’s. It’s a long road from research in the laboratory to treatments in the clinic, but investment to boost the number of new drug targets is critical if we are to face this huge medical challenge.”
The project to be conducted by the University of Southampton and MRC Technology investigators is the first research to receive financial support from the Dementia Consortium and is expected to result in the discovery of new and more viable compounds able to block CSF1R. The consortium was designed through a collaboration between Alzheimer’s Research UK, MRC Technology and the pharmaceutical companies Eisai and Lilly with initial funding of £3 million to be used in drug discovery.
The Dementia Consortium believes that by funding projects like this one and uniting different areas of expertise, they will be able to bring together academics and pharmaceutical companies which can work together with the common purpose of finding new drugs and delaying the development of Alzheimer’s. “Our Centre for Therapeutics Discovery has proven capability in drug discovery and, as a charity, we are ideally placed between academia and pharma to translate promising science into effective treatments for patients,” stated the Director of Drug Discovery at MRC Technology, Dr. Justin Bryans.
“Neuroinflammation is emerging as a key contributing factor in driving Alzheimer’s disease pathology,” added the Director, Open Innovation, UK, Eisai Ltd., Dr. Andy Takle. “The biological mechanisms that underpin this process are incredibly complex and our understanding relies heavily on information originating from the academic community. For this reason, we recognise that collaboration is key in identifying new opportunities to intervene. As a Dementia Consortium partner on this exciting project, we look forward to bridging academic expertise with a focused drug discovery effort to develop new medicines for this devastating disease.”
Alzheimer’s News Today recently reported that another investigator at the University of Southampton has made an important discovery for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease as well. A study led by Professor Clive Holmes demonstrated that the drug etanercept prescribed for the treatment of arthritis is able to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. Patients with mild to moderate disease were administrated within a six-month period and examined for memory function, efficiency of day-to-day activities, and behavior, revealing that their Alzheimer’s disease did not evolve.