Zeroing in on a Biomarker Test for Parkinson's Disease

Lundbeck is combining its biomarker discoveries with leading microfluidic experts at the Danish Technical University (DTU) to develop a state-of-the-art biomarker assay. The project aims to facilitate early diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's disease and Multiple System Atrophy (MSA), and enable improved monitoring of disease progression and effects of disease-modifying therapies.

Three years ago, Lundbeck embarked on a journey to develop a validated biomarker test for Parkinson's disease focused on the detection of minute amounts of pathological aggregates formed by the protein alpha-synuclein. A key hallmark of Parkinson's disease is abnormal deposits of the protein alpha-synuclein in several different regions of the brain.1  In collaboration with expert academic groups, Lundbeck scientists developed a test that determined with 90% accuracy whether a person had misfolded alpha-synuclein aggregates indicative of Parkinson's disease in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This objective biomarker enables a fast, early and more precise diagnosis, facilitating early intervention and allowing for more meaningful treatment outcomes. However, there are still challenges related to scaling and robustness of the assay to achieve high precision.

Now, together with DTU professor Alexander K. Büell, PhD, an expert in protein aggregation and microfluidics, Lundbeck scientists aim to push the boundaries of neuroscience once again and go from a test providing binary answers to an assay that may also determine the progression of Parkinson's disease. Through an improved assay setup utilizing microdroplets and big data tools, Lundbeck aims to quantify, through amplification, minute amounts of pathological aggregates in tissue and biofluids, such as CSF. This innovative work is supported by a research grant from The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF).

“We are delighted that the MJFF grant enables us to combine our experience in the study of alpha-synuclein aggregation, as well as our microfluidics methods, with the long-standing efforts of Lundbeck to develop impactful diagnostics and therapeutics for patients with Parkinson’s and MSA,” says Büll, a professor of protein biophysics at the department of Biotechnology and Biomedicine at DTU with more than 10 years of experience in the study of pathological alpha-synuclein aggregation.

A robust, accurate and quantitative assay would aid early diagnosis and serve as a disease-progression marker, which, in turn, could contribute to development of disease-modifying treatments for Parkinson’s. The project is pre-competitive, meaning that the results derived from the research will be shared with the pharmaceutical industry, academia and made public by MJFF. The funding will support a post-doctoral researcher for two years under joint supervision from DTU and Lundbeck.

"Innovation is at the core of our approach to translational research and drug discovery at Lundbeck, and I'm thrilled that we are partnering with MJFF to bring therapeutic solutions for patients in need. Research in synucleinopathies, including Parkinson’s disease and multiple system atrophy, is rapidly evolving and the unmet need for new therapies, diagnostics, and disease relevant biomarkers has never been greater. We continue to be committed to our mission to restore brain health for the millions of people living with brain diseases,” says Tarek Samad, PhD, SVP, Head of Research at Lundbeck.

A well-established partnership within Parkinson's research

This is the sixth time in 13 years that MJFF is funding a research program driven by Lundbeck. Previously, the foundation has supported Lundbeck around work developing antibodies for alpha-synuclein, understanding the LRRK2 gene and exploring two potential new therapeutic targets. The new grant supports the research efforts with 2.6 million DKK.

“The greatest unmet need of people with Parkinson’s disease is a therapy to slow or stop progression. We have funded Lundbeck for various work toward this goal, and this latest collaborative project grows that portfolio with promising efforts around a critical assay to support clinical trials,” said Luis Oliveira, PhD, MJFF Senior Associate Director of Research Programs.

Lundbeck also supports a variety of MJFF efforts. The company is a member of three groups organized by the MJFF: the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI) Partner Scientific Advisory Board, the Research Tools Consortium for Industry (ITC) and the Parkinson's Disease Education Consortium (PDEC). Through these partnerships, Lundbeck and MJFF collaborate around development of resources for the scientific community and or patients and families living with Parkinson’s in service of speeding research to cures.

About MJFF

The Michael J. Fox Foundation is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson's disease through an aggressively funded research agenda and to ensuring the development of improved therapies for those living with Parkinson's today. Established by Michael J. Fox in 2000, the Foundation has since become the largest non-profit funder of Parkinson's disease research in the world, funding more than $1.5 billion in research to date2,3.


1. Kalia LV, Lang AE. Parkinson's disease. Lancet. 2015;386(9996):896-912.




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