Jim Eubanks, PhD, national director of medical affairs at Octave, provided thoughts on the company’s $10 million grant from The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and highlighted the importance of awareness for movement disorders like Parkinson disease.
World Movement Disorders Day, held November 29, 2023, is an annual event to raise awareness about movement disorders which include Parkinson disease (PD) and many others. The worldwide effort to promote awareness for this day of recognition in movement disorders is managed by the International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society (MDS) and its partners. Despite the significant progress made in the field of PD, researchers believe that a multiplexed biomarker assay panel could further accelerate research and development of new treatments as well as provide a tool for better monitoring and management of the disease.1
Recently, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) awarded a $10 million grant to Octave Bioscience for the discovery, development, and validation of a custom protein biomarker panel to measure PD activity and progression in the clinic. Octave was selected for this grant because of the company’s track record in biomarker research and its successful commercialization of the multiplexed custom biomarker assay panel in patients with multiple sclerosis. In the announcement, the company noted that this grant to help to address a major unmet need facing the PD community.1
Following the news, principal investigator Jim Eubanks, PhD, national director of medical affairs at Octave, had a conversation with NeurologyLive® about the grant, sharing his reaction and the future plans for research. Eubanks also talked about how developing a common biological language expedites the creation of new therapies for PD and the role that biomarkers play in overcoming the challenges of proving the effectiveness of disease-modifying therapies for patients with PD. Additionally, he spoke about why movement disorder awareness is crucial for policy decisions, and how it can guide research investments.
A cascade of feelings in rapid succession: Tremendous excitement, followed by deep gratitude, then an awesome sense of responsibility to the PD community.
In the near term, we will work with the research community to develop a common biological language that will expedite the development of new therapies. At the same time, we will develop a tool–ideally a simple blood test–that clinicians can use to personalize the care for each person living with PD.The guiding principle is that, by understanding the unique biology of each patient, we can deliver the right therapies at the right time, to achieve the best possible outcomes.
The most acute need is for disease modifying therapies that slow or stop the progression of PD. Despite tremendous efforts in this area, and many breakthroughs in the scientific understanding of PD pathology, we still can’t say unequivocally that any therapy slows the progression of PD. It’s surprisingly difficult to show that you’ve prevented progression. We know it’s a high bar, but we still don’t know with any degree of precision exactly where the bar is, and how we’ll know when we’ve cleared it. We think the key will be to develop objective biomarkers that can measure all the diverse biological processes underlying progression, and tie them to outcomes that are meaningful to patients with PD. By more clearly defining the goals, we can speed up the development of new therapies.
Collaboration is absolutely essential in at least 2 ways: First, we are going into this venture recognizing that we are standing on the shoulders of scientific giants. Their earlier work gave us the key insights that will form the foundation of our biomarker discovery efforts. Indeed, our role will be to help put the pieces together, using more recently developed innovations in data science, but with a firm grounding in biology, and informed by clinical need.
Second, we need a great deal of data and samples to be able to find the patterns and ‘crack the code’ of the biology underlying PD progression. We know this from having developed the Multiple Sclerosis Disease Activity Test in which we needed data from over 3000 patients. We are grateful to MJFF for giving us access to these resources–and even more grateful to the patients who have participated in these studies!
Awareness of movement disorders is critically important from a policy perspective. With PD in particular, knowing the individual and societal burden–and the fact that it is increasing with an aging population–can help direct research investments toward finding better treatments. Also, understanding the environmental risk factors for PD, such as pesticide use, can help guide policy toward minimizing exposure.
As we develop these tools that will be used for individualizing PD treatment, it’s critical to talk to patients and understand what’s important to them. For example, at what point does knowledge of your disease at a detailed level give you power over it, and at what point is this knowledge a burden, particularly if we don’t currently have a way to stop the disease processes we are measuring.
Parkinson is not just a movement disorder. It is critical to treat the whole person, and keep an open ear to what is really bothering your patients as this will vary. There are a myriad of non-motor symptoms which patients report as being as least as bothersome as their movement difficulties. If PD were all about dopamine, then replacing dopamine (through Levodopa) would effectively be a cure for PD, which we know is not the case. Thinking more openly will help address patient needs in the near term and will be the key toward finding better therapies.
I look forward to breaking free of the therapeutic inertia in PD; stemming from a belief that what we have currently is good enough, and from a fear of moving forward because of past failures. We are at an incredible juncture now, where we have the tools and knowledge to make a historic impact on the lives of patients living with PD.
Transcript edited for clarity.