“We are very impressed with the Parkinson’s Foundation’s holistic approach towards improving patient care and supporting cutting-edge research,” Paul Y. Song, MD, NKGen Biotech’s vice chairman, said in a press release. “We are confident that they will be a great partner for us as we bring our treatment for Parkinson’s disease to the clinic in 2023.”
Alpha-synuclein aggregates are a significant therapeutic target in Parkinson’s
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease best known for its movement-related symptoms. A key player in the development and progression of Parkinson’s is the accumulation of the protein alpha-synuclein, which forms insoluble aggregates often called Lewy bodies.
Alpha-synuclein is mainly found in the brain and spinal cord, and builds up in nerve cells (neurons) that produce dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain. As a result, these nerve cells are gradually lost, lowering dopamine levels. This causes patients to progressively lose motor control and, to some degree, cognitive functions.
As such, alpha-synuclein aggregates are one of the main therapeutic targets among all Parkinson’s treatments.
SNK01 is a natural killer cell product developed by NKGen Biotech, and the company’s first cell therapy candidate.
Natural killer cells (also known as NK cells) are a type of white blood cell that serves as the first line of defense within the immune system. These cells attack and destroy external threats such as viruses and invading bacteria, or even tumor cells.
We are confident that [the Parkinson’s Foundation] will be a great partner for us as we bring our treatment for Parkinson’s disease to the clinic in 2023
Preclinical studies show NK cells act as scavengers of alpha-synuclein aggregates
Studies in mouse models of Parkinson’s have shown that NK cells act as scavengers of alpha-synuclein aggregates. These studies also found that the absence of NK cells led to an overproduction of alpha-synuclein and worsening of motor symptoms.
Moreover, the lack of NK cells was also associated with an increase in the number of autoreactive T-cells, immune cells that are involved in inflammation and neurodegeneration.
Taken together, these results suggest a protective role of NK cells in neurodegenerative diseases that are caused by the accumulation of alpha-synuclein.
“Recent research has shown that NK cells can help remove alpha-synuclein proteins, reduce autoreactive T cell generated inflammation, and remove damaged neurons,” Song said.
SNK01 is an autologous cell therapy, meaning that NK cells are taken from a patient, expanded and activated in the lab, and then infused back into the same patient.
Given the positive results obtained from these studies, NKGen Biotech says that its “non-genetically modified, enhanced, and expanded NK cells (SNK01) can provide an entirely new therapeutic approach to Parkinson’s disease which currently lacks effective disease modifying modalities,” Song said.
Now, by collaborating with the Parkinson’s Foundation and its network of partners and donors, the U.S.-based company will be able to drive its clinical research to people with Parkinson’s as early as next year.
“The Parkinson’s Foundation has a strong commitment to identify and accelerate promising scientific breakthroughs in the treatment of [Parkinson’s disease],” said John L. Lehr, president and CEO of the foundation.
“We are looking to support novel innovative approaches in [Parkinson’s disease], and we are attracted to NKGen’s unwavering commitment to bring their NK cell therapy to the clinic very quickly,” he added.
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