Michael J. Fox Foundation Unveils Eye-Opening Results of Ken Griffin Alpha-Synuclein Imaging Competition, Outlines Next Steps

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) has recently celebrated the successful conclusion of its “Ken Griffin Alpha-synuclein Imaging Competition,” a groundbreaking $10-million program that set out to develop an imaging tracer to visualize the key protein alpha-synuclein in the living brains of people with Parkinson’s disease (PD).

Spearheaded by a generous leadership gift from Citadel founder and CEO Ken Griffin, this competition has been an invaluable asset in MJFF’s tireless mission to find better treatments, cures and disease prevention for the PD community.

The Ken Griffin Alpha-synuclein Imaging Competition has revolutionized the understanding of Parkinson’s Disease, bringing us closer than ever before to imaging clumps of the protein alpha-synuclein in the living brain.

Previously, these clumps were visible only through post-mortem tissue analysis, and scientists believe that their presence harms cells and results in disease symptoms. Successfully imaging these aggregations in the living brain could help measure progression and improve diagnosis, giving us unprecedented insight into the biology of Parkinson’s Disease.

“I am thrilled to support the Michael J. Fox Foundation’s leadership in the pursuit of a cure for Parkinson’s disease. With the help of these three teams, we are on the brink of revolutionizing care for millions of people living with this condition. My hope is that this will improve the lives of all those touched by PD and bring us closer to a cure.”

In 2019, the Michael J. Fox Foundation injected the field of Alpha-synuclein Imaging with a $10 million investment through their Ken Griffin Alpha-synuclein Imaging Competition, sparking a three-year scientific race.

This marked a new chapter in the Foundation’s 13-year pursuit of this elusive tracer, having already invested $36 million into the field. The competition proved to be a turning point, and the Foundation is now on the brink of achieving a long-sought breakthrough.

When Jamie Eberling, PhD, MJFF’s senior vice president of research resources, joined the Foundation in 2009, she was determined to make the development of an alpha-synuclein imaging tracer a priority.

Despite being seen as one of the most challenging areas, her vision has now been realized and the progress from all teams is truly astonishing. This momentous achievement is transforming the future of diagnostic and therapeutic tools, which is urgently needed.

As the Competition Culminates, the Next Chapter Begins

In 2019, Ken Griffin launched the Alpha-synuclein Imaging Competition with a personal mission: to fund Parkinson’s research in honor of his father, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s several years prior. This was Griffin’s first venture into Parkinson’s research and he was determined to make a difference.

The Brain Power Competition has awarded its three finalists, AC Immune, Mass General Brigham and Merck, a combined $8.5 million in 2020 to develop an imaging tracer that can be used in PET scans to visualize alpha-synuclein. Today, Merck’s team of Helen Mitchell, PhD, Robert Drolet, PhD, and Eric Hostetler, PhD have been awarded an additional $1.5 million to continue their pioneering research.

Thanks to the team’s dedication and hard work, a first-in-human clinical trial of their alpha-synuclein PET tracer is set to begin in 2023. This marks a huge milestone in the effort to diagnose and treat neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

The Ken Griffin Alpha-synuclein Imaging Competition has yielded remarkable advances in the development of different alpha-synuclein tracer methods. Merck and Mass General Brigham are preparing tracers for human trials, while AC Immune has become the first to successfully visualize alpha-synuclein in living human patients with multiple system atrophy (MSA).

This incredible breakthrough has opened the door for AC Immune to push forward their tracer for MSA and several second-generation tracers towards clinical trials. It is truly remarkable what this competition has achieved in the pursuit of improving the lives of those affected by Parkinson’s.

Merck is honored to be recognized with the Ken Griffin Alpha-synuclein Imaging Competition award. Our commitment to neuroscience discovery has made it possible to develop a selective PET tracer for alpha-synuclein, with the potential to enable earlier diagnosis for Parkinson’s disease and inform efforts to develop new treatment options. This award is a testament to our ongoing dedication to advancing healthcare solutions and improving patient care.

Parkinson’s is a growing global health concern, expected to affect 12 million people by 2040. However, there is hope: the ability to visualize alpha-synuclein in the living brain has the potential to revolutionize the development of new PD therapies, improve diagnosis, and monitor progression. With the right technology, Parkinson’s could soon become a manageable and treatable condition.

Tracing the presence of alpha-synuclein in the living brain could revolutionize the way we understand and treat Parkinson’s disease (PD). By providing a new measure of progression, the tracer would help researchers to identify volunteers for clinical trials and assess drug efficacy more quickly.

This could lead to the development of novel interventions that target alpha-synuclein, potentially offering a much-needed lifeline to millions of PD patients around the world. With a tracer, we could finally start to make a real impact on this debilitating condition.

The generous philanthropy of Ken Griffin has propelled the development of an alpha-synuclein imaging tracer to an unprecedented level. Thanks to this strategic investment, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research is closer than ever to delivering tangible results to people and families with Parkinson’s. This revolutionary tool has the potential to offer a ray of hope for those affected by the disease.

About The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF)

The Michael J. Fox Foundation is on a mission to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease and improve treatments for those affected by it. With over $1.75 billion invested in research, the Foundation has made tremendous progress towards achieving this goal.

Through innovative collaborations with industry leaders, academic scientists, and government funders, they have created a robust, open-access data set and biosample library, as well as a Fox Trial Finder to increase participation in clinical trials.

The Foundation has also engaged thousands of supporters around the world through various awareness campaigns, events, and outreach initiatives. Together, they are working towards a brighter future and a world without Parkinson’s.

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