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Anna Sweeney
Garvan Institute
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The Australian Parkinson’s Mission, an innovative program combining clinical trials with genomics research for people with Parkinson’s, has received $30 million in federal government funding, the most significant investment in Australian Parkinson’s research.

The funding, announced this week by federal Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, will enable the Australian Parkinson’s Mission to identify desperately needed disease-modifying drugs with the potential to slow the progression of Parkinson’s.

“We’re thrilled to announce $30 million over five years in funding from the Medical Research Future Fund. The Australian Parkinson’s Mission aligns with many of the priorities of the Medical Research Future Fund which includes addressing areas of unmet need, genomics and developing new treatments from drug repurposing,” Mr Hunt said.

“There are approximately 100,000 Australians living with Parkinson’s. Currently, there are no treatments that can slow, stop or cure the disease, and no ways for us to detect and diagnose the disease early. The Australian Parkinson’s Mission is a big step towards identifying the underlying cause of this devastating disease, treatments that stop the disease progressing and, ultimately, a cure.”

The Head of the Neurodegeneration and Neurogenomics Program at the Garvan Institute, UNSW Medicine Associate Professor Antony Cooper, said: “The Australian Parkinson’s Mission employs an entirely new design for Parkinson’s. The findings from our clinical trials will be integrated with analyses of patients’ genomic information and biomarkers – naturally occurring measurable indicators of a disease. This will help us identify the right drug for the right patient to halt this disease.” 

The Australian Parkinson’s Mission will test repurposed drugs in a world-first in Parkinson’s clinical trial design, which means effective treatments can be identified and fast tracked to people with the disease. Sequencing the genome of each patient, the Australian Parkinson’s Mission will establish a first step toward personalised medicine for Parkinson’s patients and will drive drug discovery. 

The Mission is an Australian-led international collaboration, developed by the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Shake It Up Australia Foundation, Parkinson’s Australia, The Cure Parkinson’s Trust and The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

CEO of Shake It Up Australia, Clyde Campbell, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2009, said: “This five-year program includes multiple clinical trials of potentially disease modifying drugs and treatments across Australia and will include many hundreds of patients. It’s going to have a substantial impact on identifying effective treatments and fast tracking them to people with the disease.”

Neurologists, Professor Simon Lewis (National Trials Lead, University of Sydney) and Associate Professor John O’Sullivan (University of Qld Trials Lead), said: “Despite substantial efforts, we’re still no closer to better treatments against disease progression or diagnostics for Parkinson’s. This is a multifaceted approach with international experts to address the primary unmet need in Parkinson’s globally.”

Director of Research and Development at The Cure Parkinson’s Trust, Dr Richard Wyse said: “The Australian Parkinson’s Mission will initially test the effectiveness of four repurposed drugs from The Cure Parkinson’s Trust’s international Linked Clinical Trials program which have been evaluated by a committee of international Parkinson’s experts, to prioritise drugs with the potential to slow or stop Parkinson’s disease, with thanks to the Australian government for its visionary support in this ground-breaking and unified approach to tackling Parkinson’s in Australia and around the world.”  

Senior Vice-President, Research Programs at The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, Dr Brian Fiske, said: “As a global leader in funding research and therapeutic development for Parkinson’s disease, we are thrilled that the Australian government is supporting this important mission. It has the potential to advance precision medicine and improve treatment for people with Parkinson’s worldwide.”

This personalised medicine mandate of the Mission will benefit from collaborations with two US-based researchers: Vikram (Vik) Khurana, MD, PhD, and Jian Peng, PhD. Khurana is the chief of the Division of Movement Disorders in the Department of Neurology and member of the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He is Principal Faculty within the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Associate Member of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. Peng is an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

CEO of Parkinson’s Australia, Steve Sant said: “This represents the most significant investment in Parkinson’s research in Australian history. We applaud the government for their innovative and forward-thinking actions to support this Australian-led international effort.”

The Australian Parkinson’s Mission was made possible by early philanthropic support from Geoff and Dawn Dixon, David and Helen Baffsky, Dr Richard Balanson and Dawn Talbot and the Shake It Up Australia Foundation.