University’s new partnership to develop new drug treatment for Parkinson’s disease


10th July 2019

The University of Dundee‘s Drug Discovery Unit (DDU) has announced a multi-million-pound partnership with Korean-based Bukwang Pharmaceutical Company in a bid to develop a new drug treatment for Parkinson’s disease. This announcement builds upon existing drug discovery partnerships the DDU has with Takeda and GSK.

Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurological disorder, after Alzheimer’s disease, affecting around two people in every 1000 across the population. There are around 6.1 million people worldwide and 120,000 people in the UK living with the condition.

A key biological event in the development of Parkinson’s disease is the accumulation and misfolding of a small protein in the brain called α–synuclein, which can kill nerve cells. Research at the University of Oxford has shown that an enzyme, USP8, prevents the natural breakdown of α–synuclein.

Working in collaboration with Dr George Tofaris at Oxford, the DDU has identified a series of drug-like molecules that block USP8 and could reduce the levels of α–synuclein in the brain, potentially providing a treatment for Parkinson’s disease.

Dr Beckie Port, Research Manager at Parkinson's UK, said, “Finding treatments that target the alpha-synuclein protein holds promise for one day slowing or stopping the progression of Parkinson’s - something no current treatment can do.

“It's an exciting time for Parkinson's research. Our increased understanding of the biology of the condition means we're now at a stage to turn our wealth of knowledge into much-needed treatments for people with Parkinson's.

“It’s great to hear that researchers from the University of Dundee are joining forces with the University of Oxford, and Bukwang Pharmaceutical Company, to drive forward the development of drugs to help all those living with Parkinson’s.”

The partnership with Bukwang Pharm strengthens the existing Dundee-Oxford relationship, which has been supported by the Medical Research Council. Bukwang Pharm will facilitate a further three-year programme of work at Dundee and Oxford to advance these drug-like molecules towards clinical development.

The aim is to formulate much-needed therapies for Parkinson’s disease and other diseases where α–synuclein pathology is implicated. Bukwang Pharm holds an exclusive option to acquire worldwide development and commercialisation rights of resulting novel molecules.

Professor Paul Wyatt, Head of the Drug Discovery Unit, said, “We are delighted to be announcing this partnership with Bukwang Pharm. Drug discovery for neurological disorders is especially challenging and an area where academia and industry need to be working together. This project brings together the clinical and translational research expertise in Oxford with Dundee’s professional drug discovery capabilities allowing us to move one stage further towards a treatment.”

Hee-Won Yoo, CEO Bukwang Pharm, said, “Bukwang Pharm has a firm focus on research and development and a real commitment to innovation in drug development. We are very impressed with the DDU’s depth of expertise and track record and are pleased to be able to include the University of Oxford in this new partnership.”

University of Dundee

Nobel Prize winning poet and honorary graduate Seamus Heaney has described the University of Dundee as ‘having its head in the clouds and its feet firmly on the ground.’ The ability to be both aspirational and down-to earth and to blend ground-breaking intellectual achievement with practical applications, has given the University its distinctive character.

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