Funding worth nearly half a million U.S. dollars will unite academics at the University of Southampton in England with drug discovery experts at the medical research charity MRC Technology, to target the immune system in the hunt for new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.
“The work is the first to be funded by the Dementia Consortium, which is a unique, £3m ($4.7 million) drug discovery collaboration between Alzheimer’s Research UK, MRC Technology and the pharmaceutical companies Eisai and Lilly. By uniting expertise, this focused cash injection will bridge the gap between academic research and the pharmaceutical industry in the search for new drugs to slow the development of Alzheimer’s.”
Dr. Diego Gomez-Nicola and colleagues at the University of Southampton are attempting to build on their current finding that a protein in the immune system called CSF1R could be the key to an effective new drug for Alzheimer’s. Together with experts at MRC Technology, they are aiming to develop novel therapeutics to target the immune. Researchers now believe that Alzheimer’s interrupts the brain’s inflammatory response, causing the damage associated with the disease.
“CSF1R is a key player in regulating the brain’s immune response. In their previous studies in mice, the team found that blocking CSF1R can dampen the inflammatory response to nerve cell death and improve symptoms in other neurodegenerative diseases. However, the compounds currently available to block CSF1R are not ideal to take into the clinic, due to unwanted effects and difficulties getting into the brain. This investment will allow the researchers to explore other, more targeted approaches to block CSF1R – important groundwork before any new treatment can go into testing in people.”
“Inflammation is the body’s response to damage and something we’ve all experienced but sometimes these mechanisms to defend the body go awry,” said Gomez Nicola, Career Track Lecturer and MRC NIRG fellow at the University of Southampton. “In Alzheimer’s disease, specialized 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,” he said.
The project will allow these researchers to find the best way to interfere with the biological flow that leads to an increase in microglia numbers. Targeting CSF1R is currently also being explored as a potential treatment for cancer and inflammatory conditions, and the researchers hope that by fine-tuning compounds to act specifically in the brain, that the approach could be beneficial for Alzheimer’s treatment as well. This crucial drug discovery research in cells and with mice should be a stepping-stone to developing new treatments that may halt damaging brain inflammation and nerve cell death in patients with Alzheimer’s.