Duchenne UK and Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy Award $350,000 to Address Immunological Challenges of Gene Therapy in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

HACKENSACK, N.J., Feb. 18, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (PPMD), a US nonprofit organization leading the fight to end Duchenne muscular dystrophy (Duchenne), and Duchenne UK, a UK-based patient organization, are pleased to announce Professor Kanneboyina Nagaraju at Binghamton, the State University of New York, as the recipient of their Joint Research Grant Call of 2020. The full title of the research project is "Targeting the innate immune system to block acute inflammatory and chronic immune response to transgene and AAV vector in DMD". Professor Nagaraju's research will receive funding from the organizations in the amount of $350,000.

These are promising times for research into Duchenne muscular dystrophy (Duchenne). Several companies are now testing an approach that uses a shortened dystrophin gene to replace the faulty dystrophin gene in Duchenne. This is known as gene transfer using micro-dystrophin, or more commonly, gene therapy. The companies are using viruses known as AAVs (adeno-associated viruses) to deliver the therapy.

However, challenges exist in getting this treatment to the entire Duchenne population. This is mainly because of immune responses: some patients have pre-existing antibodies to the AAVs. This means they will not, currently, be able to have the treatment because their bodies will recognize the virus and stop it from delivering the micro-dystrophin to the cells. In addition, as gene therapy is a new treatment, it is not yet clear if another dose will be required at a later stage, and it is not currently possible to re-dose with the same AAV.

This is why Duchenne UK & PPMD launched a call for projects last year that would specifically address this challenge.

The organizations received a large number of proposals, and three were taken forward for final review from a panel of highly qualified, specialized scientists. They looked at a wide variety of factors, including significance to the Duchenne community, and the ability to translate the research into treatments for patients.

Professor Nagaraju's research is looking at blocking the mechanism by which the body is able to recognise an AAV virus and mount an immune response to it. Importantly, he is using medicines that are already in use in humans, in an approach known as repurposing.

If this approach were successful, it would allow more micro-dystrophin to get to the cells, potentially requiring a lower dose of the AAV than is currently being administered in the trials. It may also allow patients who have already been dosed with gene therapy to receive further doses. Further to this, by using repurposed drugs, this treatment should be more easily transferable to patients. Professor Nagaraju believes that "targeting initial immune recognition pathways is one way to improve efficacy and safety profiles of AAV mediated gene therapy".

PPMD's Founding President & CEO, Pat Furlong, and Duchenne UK's CEO, Emily Crossley explained in a joint statement: "Supporting patients and accelerating innovative research is at the heart of what we do at Duchenne UK and PPMD. We are pleased to partner with each other and award this grant. Gene therapy is offering great promise, but there are challenges associated with the immune response which are limiting the rate of progress and a barrier to ensuring all patients can have access to these potentially transformative therapies. We would like to thank all those who participated and supported our Joint Grant Call and are very much looking forward to working with Professor Nagaraju on this vitally important project for the Duchenne community."

To learn more about PPMD's innovative research agenda and our investment portfolio, visit PPMD's website.

About Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy

Duchenne is a fatal genetic disorder that slowly robs people of their muscle strength. Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (PPMD) fights every single battle necessary to end Duchenne.

We demand optimal care standards and ensure every family has access to expert healthcare providers, cutting edge treatments, and a community of support. We invest deeply in treatments for this generation of Duchenne patients and in research that will benefit future generations. Our advocacy efforts have secured hundreds of millions of dollars in funding and won four FDA approvals.

Everything we do--and everything we have done since our founding in 1994--helps those with Duchenne live longer, stronger lives. We will not rest until we end Duchenne for every single person affected by the disease. Join our fight against Duchenne at EndDuchenne.org. Follow PPMD on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

About Duchenne UK

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) is a devastating muscle-wasting disease. It is the most common and severe form of Muscular Dystrophy. Diagnosed in childhood, it mainly affects boys. There is currently no cure. Started by families affected by the disease, Duchenne UK has one clear aim - to end Duchenne.

Duchenne UK are funding research that's focused on getting treatments to those affected now - as well as pushing for an effective treatment in the future.

Duchenne UK connects leading researchers with industry, the NHS and patients to challenge every stage of drug development, from research to clinical trials to drug approval. They connect families with each other to create a network of mutual support and to pool resources, knowledge and experience.

For more information about Duchenne UK: visit www.duchenneuk.org.

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SOURCE Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (PPMD)