Michael J. Fox Foundation launches $2M PET tracer prize

By Kate Madden Yee, AuntMinnie.com staff writer

June 13, 2016 -- The Michael J. Fox Foundation will award a $2 million prize for the development of a PET tracer to visualize alpha-synuclein, a key protein in Parkinson's disease. The foundation made its announcement at the 2016 Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI) meeting in San Diego.

Alpha-synuclein accumulates in the brains of people with Parkinson's disease, and researchers believe it is the cause of cell degeneration and death responsible for Parkinson's symptoms and progression, the foundation said. With the prize, the organization hopes to inspire academic and industry researchers to develop the tracer, which would allow for earlier and more precise diagnosis of the disease and the ability to track its progression and determine patient response to treatment.

"The ability to image alpha-synuclein in the brain would be a game changer for Parkinson's translational research and would rapidly accelerate testing of therapies to slow or stop disease progression," said Jamie Eberling, PhD, director of research programs, in a statement.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation is the world's largest nonprofit funder of Parkinson's research and it has long supported the pursuit of an alpha-synuclein PET tracer. In 2009, it awarded nearly $2 million in grants to develop neuroimaging techniques for visualizing the protein in the human brain, and in 2011, it established the public-private Alpha-Synuclein Imaging Consortium to work on developing the tracer.

Those participating in the new competition may be academic or industry researchers; the foundation's own Alpha-Synuclein Imaging Consortium is also eligible, it said.

Participants must provide preclinical and clinical data showing selectivity and viability of their alpha-synuclein radiotracer and agree to make it available for the foundation's use through a nonexclusive license or other feasible mechanism. Rather than having a deadline for submission, the foundation will award the prize to the first team that shows compelling evidence.

Evidence should include the following:

  • Preclinical:
    • Development of a radiosynthesis method that allows for feasible radiolabeling with carbon-11 or F-18 (or both) at a more than 20% yield
    • Selective binding to alpha-synuclein-rich brain tissue (versus beta-amyloid or tau-rich tissue)
    • Proof of concept in alpha-synuclein preclinical models
  • Human study:
    • Acceptable biodistribution with adequate brain uptake
    • Acceptable metabolite profile
    • Demonstrated proof-of-concept evidence of robust in vivo kinetics that enable quantification of alpha-synuclein binding
    • In vivo binding patterns consistent with the expected distribution of alpha-synuclein pathology per population
    • Demonstrated selective in vivo binding to alpha-synuclein pathology

If no award is given by mid-2018, the organization plans to re-evaluate the utility of such a prize, it said.


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