MDA Part of Historic $36 Million Drug Search

by ALSN Staff on Thu, 2007-02-01 09:16

In mid-January, MDA announced that it would play a key role in the largest ALS drug discovery project in history — a three-year, $36 million effort to identify biochemical targets and find drugs that work on them.

James Heywood started the ALS Therapy Development Foundation (now ALS TDI) in 1999 after his brother Stephen developed ALS. Stephen Heywood died in November.

The collaboration will be supported by an MDA grant of funds generated by its Augie’s Quest initiative, and by the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI, formerly the ALS Therapy Development Foundation). MDA will grant $6 million a year for the next three years and ALS TDI will add its $6 million annual budget to the project. MDA’s funding for this collaboration is above and beyond it existing ALS research expenditures.

Research will take place at the Institute’s 16,000-square-foot lab in Cambridge, Mass. ALS TDI is a nonprofit biotechnology company dedicated to translating research into potential drug treatments. It was started by James Heywood in 1999 after his brother Stephen received an ALS diagnosis. Stephen Heywood died in November 2006.

The Institute will continue its program of drug testing in a mouse model of ALS, but its major focus will be analyzing changes in gene activity over the course of ALS in various mouse models and in patients. Gene activity, also called gene expression, is the extent to which a cell is actively engaged in protein synthesis from a gene’s instructions.

This work will complement the recent identification of genes that may play a role in ALS susceptibility, accomplished through an MDA grant to the Phoenix-based Translational Genomics Research Institute.

Steve Perrin, formerly an executive at the biotechnology company Biogen Idec, is chief scientific officer of ALS TDI. Former Institute vice president of drug discovery Sean Scott is its president, and founder James Heywood is chief executive officer.

Nels Mahle directs TDI’s Mass Spectrometry Core, a system that identifies and measures drugs in spinal tissue.

“The causes of ALS have been a tragic mystery for too long,” said MDA National Chairman Jerry Lewis, noting that Lou Gehrig’s widow, Eleanor, held a voluntary leadership position with MDA for many years. “This project is a giant step toward a solution to that mystery and a cure for ALS.”

ALSN Staff
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