Building connections

August 2023

One of the nice things about being a charitable trust, as opposed to a company seeking a competitive advantage and return for shareholders, is that we don’t need to compete with other organisations working in the same space—rather, we can collaborate strategically to achieve a shared mission, and optimize the use of charitable funds toward our goal. To that end, it was absolutely wonderful to be invited this year to attend the international linked clinical trials meeting, hosted by Cure Parkinson’s at Cumberland Lodge, Windsor Great Park, in the UK. What a beautiful setting and what a privilege to be present among many of the world’s leading authorities on Parkinson’s disease therapies.

Over two days at the end of June an assorted group of around 20 experts from the UK, US, Europe, and Australia, shared updates on a number of clinical trials already underway and debated the merits (or otherwise) of a portfolio of previously triaged compounds for consideration for prioritization into new trials. Also at this annual meeting were a number of charities that sponsor Parkinson’s research, and people with Parkinson’s. It was great to see the delegates in action assessing data from cell and animal models as well as human studies where available, in addition to mechanism of action and safety information, to determine which new compounds held the most promise as potential candidates for treating Parkinson’s disease. It was encouraging to learn about some promising results emerging from existing trials, and to see the incredible innovation in clinical trial design: to accelerate the time to results; to increase efficiencies; and to better enable trials to ‘pivot’ based on interim results. Excitingly, the 2022/2023 year was described as a “tipping point” for Parkinson’s research. We are very much looking forward to the publication of and public announcements about the results from these various clinical trials happening around the world.

The meeting was also a wonderful opportunity to spend time with those leading the charge in fundraising for a cure: from the brilliant team at Cure Parkinson’s, who were so incredibly welcoming, to Clyde Campbell from Shake it Up Australia Foundation, who has achieved remarkable success across the Tasman with AU$30M invested in 71 research projects since 2011. Something to aspire to here in NZ. It was also a great opportunity to meet with folk from the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and Parkinson’s UK and discuss our goals and the strength of NZ research over meals and drinks in the evening. What a strong, collaborative international community. An added bonus was joining the dietary interventions workshop the following day, with a host of Parkinson’s nutrition experts from around the world, and an excellent keynote speech from prolific researcher and neurologist Bas Bloem on lifestyle interventions. In the search for drugs that can stop or slow progression, we must not ignore the impact of lifestyle interventions such as exercise, diet and mindfulness, which already flatten the curve and slow the advance of Parkinson’s symptoms.

The meeting in Windsor was well timed, being shortly before the World Parkinson’s Congress in Barcelona in early July—a triennial meeting that brings together the world’s top researchers, clinicians, companies, charitable organisations, people with Parkinson’s and their Care Partners. What a wonderful, inspiring, and highly motivating congress that was. The congress was a fabulous chance to get up to speed on the latest in Parkinson’s research from around the world and of course to develop further networks and relationships. It is especially gratifying to see how deeply the clinicians running clinical trials are listening to people with Parkinson’s—about the symptoms that matter most to them; about the feasibility of study design; about their hopes and fears for therapies. The level of engagement with people living with Parkinson’s now apparent, through Patient Councils and Panels as discussed here), is great to see. It is also exciting to see how different parts of the biology “jigsaw” are now starting to fit together as the results of genetic research converge on those of neuropathology and cell biology studies. Exciting times ahead. The key message is that there likely won’t be a single cure for all, but rather multiple  targeted therapeutic approaches offered on the basis of a person’s underlying disease biology.

The week between meetings was also spent productively, with various meetings in London and Cambridge. It was great to learn about the success of Alzheimer’s Research UK (and their recipe for success as a charity) as well as being able to meet a number of the researchers working on Parkinson’s biology or therapies. There are certainly many opportunities for collaboration and cross-pollination—my gratitude to Mary Jane Boland and Melina Mercier of the University of Cambridge Development and Alumni Relations Office for setting up some of these meetings.

I am very much looking forward to further developing the relationships we have established with these overseas organisations, and collaborating for the benefit of people with Parkinson’s all over the world as we do our bit to identify treatments that can stop or further slow clinical progression and worsening of symptoms.

Daniel McGowan

CEO, Cure Parkinson’s NZ

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