Industry-academia collaboration takes aim at ALS

A new industry-academia collaboration will aim to pin down the causes of motor neurone disease (MND) and identity targets for future treatments.

This this the first project under a new five-year collaboration agreement that will see the Francis Crick Institute in London and scientists from MSD work together to better understand difficult to treat disease.

MND, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), is a devastating disease and there are no treatments that can stop or reverse it.

The project will be led by Dr Rickie Patani, a research group leader at the Crick and UCL and consultant neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery.

“In the clinic, it’s devastating when I have to tell a patient they have motor neurone disease,” says Rickie.

“Often, the patient first walks in with mild weakness in a limb and then I see the disease progressing relentlessly with every visit.

“Within a year or two, they might be in a wheelchair and require breathing support. This disease destroys families, and I feel profoundly guilty that we still have no effective treatments to offer.

“Through fundamental research, we want to understand the basic biology underpinning the disease. Just knowing what’s happening can offer some comfort to patients, even when there aren’t treatments around the corner.

“I am excited to start our new collaboration with MSD, which we hope will give us a comprehensive understanding of the earliest events that cause motor neurone disease. This is a unique science-led partnership, driven by our shared commitment to helping patients in the long term.”

The new collaboration will build on previous work from Rickie’s group, which identified key mechanisms that can kill motor neurons in patients.

By studying human motor neurons derived from patients’ skin cells, the team hope to build scientific understanding that may underpin new treatments in the years to come.

Fiona Marshall, Vice President, Head of Neuroscience Discovery and Head of Discovery Science at MSD UK said: “We are delighted to be working with Rickie and his colleagues at the Crick and I am hopeful that this collaboration could produce ground-breaking research which will ultimately change how we treat a broad spectrum of diseases in the future.

“This collaboration is a great example of the opportunities that can arise from a thriving life science community when doors and minds are open.”

The research is co-funded by MSD and the Medical Research Council.

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