Bristol-Myers, Vanderbilt U. forge Parkinson's drug development deal

Vanderbilt University will team up with Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) to identify new Parkinson's disease treatments and guide them from the lab to the clinic, and ultimately, the marketplace.

The agreement represents an increasing awareness that academic research can inject new energy into the drug development process. And academia is turning to industry for a steady source of research funding in an era where the push for deficit reduction puts future government funding levels in question.

Both will work on potential Parkinson's treatments that focus on the mGluR4 glutamate receptor (known as a positive  allosteric modulator, or PAM). Vanderbilt will bring potential drug candidates to the partnership through its existing program at the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery (a program already backed by The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research).

Neither side is disclosing financial details. But Vanderbilt gets paid upfront plus it also gains multiyear research funding toward discovery of new treatments. The university can also earn milestone and royalty payments based on success in development and sales of drugs stemming from the partnership, which Bristol-Myers Squibb will, of course, have the right to develop and commercialize.

Focusing on mGluR4 PAMs is an interesting approach. They are expressed in parts of the brain connected to Parkinson's, the researchers explain, and the drug would correct out-of-whack brain signaling in an attempt to lessen Parkinson's symptoms. Such a concept would be less invasive than a surgical procedure commonly used to do the same thing, according to the partnership announcement.

Other companies are eyeing this particular Parkinson's target. Merck Serono recently spun off Prexton Therapeutics to advance a number of preclinical Parkinson's treatments targeting metabotropic glutamate receptors mGluR3 and mGluR4. Merck Serono, in turn, is working with Domain Therapeutics to help it to develop mGluR4 PAM Parkinson's drugs.

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