The University of Sheffield and Parkinson’s UK said today they have launched a £1 million ($1.2 million) virtual biotech to create new treatments for Parkinson’s disease.

Keapstone Therapeutics will combine research from the University with funding and know-how from the charity in what the partners said was the first time that a charity has directly approached researchers to launch a “single-asset” spinout created to advance a specific research program.

Such an approach is intended to speed up the translation of research into new therapies and clinical trials, according to Sheffield and Parkinson’s UK, which will each retain stakes in any future treatments to be developed.

“This major new program of work will allow us to act in a similar way to a small biotech company. However, unlike a commercial company, our primary goal is the creation of new treatments to improve the lives of people with Parkinson’s, regardless of commercial considerations,” Arthur Roach, Ph.D., director of research at Parkinson’s UK, said in a statement.

Keapstone was created through Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech, the drug discovery and development arm of Parkinson’s UK, through which the nonprofit will provide leadership and funding with partners that have facilities and staff to conduct contract research.

The initiative aims to use £11 million ($13.4 million) in funding raised by Parkinson’s UK donors by the end of 2019 to support projects and companies working to develop transformative new Parkinson’s treatments—between £2 million and £4 million ($2.4 million to $4.9 million) each year.

A Decade of Research

Keapstone is looking to build on more than a decade of research at the University’s Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN), where Richard Mead, Ph.D., has led the discovery of a new class of compounds that can activate a defense system against oxidative stress found in the brain cells of people with Parkinson’s.

The virtual biotech will fund the work of chemistry specialists from a provider of integrated drug discovery services, Sygnature Discovery, to further develop these molecules, which according to Sheffield and Parkinson’s UK could eventually become new drugs that can slow or stop the progression of Parkinson’s.

SITraN will work with European Lead Factory, a public–private partnership that promotes drug discovery efforts by giving researchers from any European academic institution or small to medium enterprise (SME) free access to up to 500,000 novel compounds and an industry-standard ultra-high-throughput screening platform,

“We are very excited about this new partnership with Parkinson’s UK. It is a great opportunity for us to pursue a novel drug discovery program for Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative conditions, such as motor neuron disease,’ Dr. Mead said. “We will now progress these molecules through the next stage of drug development.”

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