Promising Results of Parkinson’s Vaccine Study Encourage Further Testing

By John Lugo

A photomicrograph showing Lewy bodies forming in the brain of a patient with Parkinson's disease. Photo courtesy of Suraj Rajan of Wikimedia Commons

A vaccine for Parkinson’s disease has shown promising results in a Phase 1 clinical trial and will soon undergo a follow-up study.

The drug, known as PD01A, was shown to reduce the accumulation of proteins (mainly alpha-synuclein proteins) called Lewy bodies, which gather in brain cells and cause degeneration and cell death in Parkinson’s patients. Scientists believe that slowing or stopping this accumulation can be a big breakthrough for treating the disease.

The Austrian pharmaceutical company AFFiRiS AG presented the data at a press conference last week with the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which offered a $1.5 million grant to support the research. The study showed that half of the vaccinated subjects produced antibodies targeting alpha-synuclein proteins, and those antibodies were found in the cerebrospinal fluid, which supports further investigation of the vaccine.

The results also showed safety and tolerability in the patients given PD01A. The follow-up study will take place in Vienna, Austria, with recruitment starting in September.

“A treatment that could slow or stop Parkinson’s progression would be a game changer for the 5 million worldwide living with this disease and the many more who will become at risk as our population ages,” Michael J. Fox Foundation CEO Todd Sherer said in a release. “The AFF008 trial is one of the most promising efforts toward that goal, and we’re proud to support this work of AFFiRiS AG.”

The work between the Michael J. Fox Foundation and AFFiRiS AG is an example of increasing cases of nonprofit foundations working with pharmaceutical companies to help develop treatments for complex diseases. For more on the rise of “pharma-lanthropy,” check out this story from Genome’s first issue.