Shortly after Patrik Brundin came to Grand Rapids to head up the Van Andel Research Institute’s research into Parkinson’s disease, he was invited to give a lecture.
Following his presentation, Brundin was approached by some representatives from Kalamazoo-based Metabolic Solutions Development Company, a drug discovery and development company with a focus on treating type 2 diabetes. The pitch was simple — we might have something that could be of some interest to your research.
And as Brundin recalls from that 2012 meeting, “It didn’t take more than 10 minutes before I could see that, yes, it could be of interest.”
What MSDC had on its hands was MSDC-0160, a drug compound initially developed to treat diabetes by targeting protein clumps affecting the mitochondria. Because of the way the drug worked, Brundin recognized potential for it to treat Parkinson’s and funding was secured from the Cure Parkinson’s Trust and several other grants to explore how MSDC-0160 could be repurposed.
What had sparked Brundin’s initial interest in MSDC-0160 was how the drug targeted systems in the body’s energy metabolism, a new and largely unexplored approach to treating Parkinson’s. And what Brundin’s research team found is the drug slowed down the progression of Parkinson’s in animal testing and could potentially do the same in human trials.
“The amazing thing for us is that this is a new target, nobody has targeted what we’re looking at,” Brundin said. “And rarely, as a scientist, do we have a chance to work on something that no one has truly worked on before.”
Jerry Colca, co-founder, president and chief scientific officer at MSDC, said he has been working with the compound since 1984, and the approach to treating diabetes was off the beaten path then.
When he approached Brundin, Colca did so with an idea the drug had the potential to treat Parkinson’s disease, but he needed the resources the Van Andel Research Institute could provide to further its research and development.
Through that collaboration, the two organizations were able to successfully prove in those countless animal models MSDC-160 did in fact have an effect on the progression of Parkinson’s and recently released a research paper that was published in the Science Translational Medicine journal.
“The nice thing about that paper is that it draws a solid line showing that this is working in these models but also working in this new mechanism,” Colca said. “It’s our hope that the understanding will propel this forward.”
With the paper’s publication, the Van Andel Research Institute and MSDC are looking to address regulatory issues and move toward human clinical trials. Brundin’s hope is funding will be obtained to begin the trials in 2017.
Because MSDC-160 is being repurposed rather than being created from scratch, the path to clinical trial is much shorter.
“The fact that the drug is there, it’s safe and it’s been trialed in humans for diabetes, so the step to doing clinical trials is much smaller,” Brundin said. “If we’re starting a new drug target, we’re looking at a 10-to-15-year process. But we’re talking about … we could know three years from now if this actually works.”
Brundin said it takes about six to 12 months to get a trial running, at least one year of studying and another six months or so to analyze the results.
Colca said he is “anxious and hopeful” the funds will be available to begin clinical trials, which should be facilitated by Brundin’s role as chairman of The Cure Parkinson’s Trust’s Linked Clinical Trials Committee. The LCT committee prioritizes new treatments to identify and fast-track the most promising drugs into clinical trials, and Brundin’s involvement bodes well for MDSC-160’s development.
While both Brundin and Colca are cautious in their optimism, noting there never has been a treatment for Parkinson’s that has worked, the evidence shown in the models is strong and reason for enthusiasm. And Brundin also expressed enthusiasm for the drug’s roots.
“We often work in large collaborative networks, but this happened because we ran into each other at the institute and (MSDC) happened to be an hour down the road,” he said. “It’s very nice that this happens to be a Michigan effort.”