The pharmaceutical company Bayer has acquired a Parkinson’s gene therapy programme following the merger of its subsidiary Asklepios Biopharmaceutical (aka ‘AskBio’) with the biotech company Brain Neurotherapy Bio (BNB).

BNB’s lead clinical programme is based on a small protein known as glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor, or GDNF. GDNF supports the growth and survival of neurons in the brain, particularly dopamine neurons which are the cells that are gradually lost to Parkinson’s. GDNF has been shown to protect dopamine neurons in models of Parkinson’s, and Cure Parkinson’s has previously supported a clinical trial of GDNF in Bristol. The gene therapy uses a specially adapted virus (AAV2) to deliver the GDNF gene to specific brain areas. In this way, it induces the production and release of the GDNF protein to promote the health and survival  of neurons damaged by Parkinson’s.

BNB have completed a Phase I clinical trial of their GDNF gene therapy approach. That study involved 13 people with advanced Parkinson’s, and the results suggested that the treatment was safe and well tolerated. In addition, brain imaging data indicates a 54% increase in dopamine activity in the brain, and clinical assessments indicated a stabilisation of motor symptoms over the course of the study.

BNB are currently conducting a second clinical trial of their GDNF gene therapy treatment, which is recruiting 12 participants to be treated with increased doses of the experimental therapy. The acquisition of BNB by the pharmaceutic company Bayer represents another Parkinson’s-related purchase, as Bayer bought the Parkinson’s-focused stem cell company in 2019.

Hopefully a large company like Bayer can bring the resources required to really help advance GDNF gene therapy through the clinical trial process.