UK charity announces research investment to find Parkinson’s drug

Parkinson’s UK have partnered with the University of Sheffield to develop a treatment that could protect brain cells affected by Parkinson’s.

Charity Parkinson’s UK is partnering with the University of Sheffield to discover and develop a potential drug that could protect the dopamine-producing brain cells affected by Parkinson’s.

The charity will invest up to £100,000 as part of their pioneering Virtual Biotech programme. This initiative aims to fast-track the best ideas and rapidly turn them into promising treatments, that can be tested and progressed to transform the lives of people with Parkinson’s.

Scientists at the University of Sheffield’s Institute of Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) – a world leading centre for neuroscience research – and Parkinson's UK will work together to modify two compounds in the study. These have been found to boost mitochondrial function in dopamine-producing brain cells and potentially reduce nerve cell death. They will look to maximise the potency and selectivity of these beneficial effects on mitochondria.

In Parkinson’s, brain cells that produce a chemical called dopamine are slowly lost over time. Dopamine allows messages to be sent to the parts of the brain that help to coordinate movement. To do this effectively, the dopamine-producing brain cells need to be constantly active. They rely on energy-producing mitochondria, the powerhouses of cells, to function properly. Any disruption could lead to dysfunction and degeneration of dopamine-producing brain cells and eventual cell death.

It is hoped the most promising compound from the study will be progressed along the drug discovery pipeline and pave the way towards potential new treatments that will protect the brain cells, slow down the progression of Parkinson’s and extend quality of life.

Richard Morphy, Drug Discovery Manager at Parkinson's UK, said:

“We are delighted to partner and work with Heather Mortiboys and her team at the University of Sheffield. Through our Virtual Biotech initiative, we are committed to accelerating promising and breakthrough treatments for Parkinson's.

“This is an exciting new approach that could rescue defective mitochondria inside neurons to prevent dysfunction and degeneration of dopamine-producing brain cells. With 148,000 people living with Parkinson's in the UK, there is a desperate need for new and better treatments for Parkinson’s. We hope the project will identify a superior group of molecules that could one day deliver a life-changing drug for people living with the condition.”

Dr Heather Mortiboys, Parkinson’s UK Senior Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield’s SITraN, said:

"I am really delighted to be working with Parkinson's UK to progress these exciting compounds closer to the clinic to have a real benefit for people with Parkinson's.

“We have already been working for five years at the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience to get to this stage, so investment from the Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech programme to further optimise the compounds towards a readily available treatment is great news. We know the mitochondria are defective in Parkinson’s; our work has found compounds, which can restore mitochondrial function in dopaminergic brain cells derived from people with Parkinson’s. If we can optimise the compounds for drug like properties we have a chance of delivering a drug which could slow the progression of Parkinson’s."

To date Parkinson’s UK’s Virtual Biotech programme, has invested in six projects, to combat lost opportunities in drug discovery and early clinical development.

Parkinson’s UK is the largest charitable funder of Parkinson's research in Europe. The charity is looking for partners to help it create a portfolio of projects that can attract further investment and take successful projects into the later stages of drug development and trials. For more information visit:


For more information, please contact Anita Salhotra, Senior Media and PR Officer at Parkinson’s UK, on 020 7932 1361 or email

Out of hours please call 07961 460 248 or email

Notes to editors

About Parkinson’s

Every hour, two people in the UK are told they have Parkinson's.

It affects 148,000 people in the UK – which is around one in 350 of the adult population.

Parkinson's is a degenerative neurological condition, for which there currently is no cure. The main symptoms of the condition are tremor, slowness of movement and rigidity.

About Parkinson’s UK

Parkinson's UK is the UK's leading charity supporting those with the condition. Its mission is to find a cure and improve life for everyone affected by Parkinson's through pioneering research, information, support and campaigning. For advice, information and support, visit or call our free, confidential helpline on 0808 800 0303.

About The Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech

Launched in March 2017, the Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech programme is the drug discovery and development arm of Parkinson’s UK, the largest charitable funder of Parkinson's research in Europe. Its mission is to fast-track the most promising treatments with the potential to transform life for people with Parkinson’s. It aims to do this by creating a portfolio of projects that can attract further investment and partnering with companies to take successful projects into the later stages of drug development and trials.

Parkinson’s UK is looking for further partners to help it create a portfolio of projects that can attract further investment and take successful projects into the later stages of drug development and trials. For more information visit:

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Sheffield Biomedical Research

Centre (BRC)

The NIHR BRC is a research partnership between the University of Sheffield and Sheffield

Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, dedicated to improving the treatment and care of

people living with chronic neurological disorders.

The Sheffield Centre is one of 20 designated NIHR Biomedical Research Centres across

the country, and hosts the development of new, ground-breaking treatments,

diagnostics, prevention and care for patients with debilitating diseases such as

dementia, motor neurone disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson


For more information please visit:

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the nation’s largest funder of health and

care research. The NIHR:

• Funds, supports and delivers high quality research that benefits the NHS, public health

and social care

• Engages and involves patients, carers and the public in order to improve the reach,

quality and impact of research

• Attracts, trains and supports the best researchers to tackle the complex health and care

challenges of the future

• Invests in world-class infrastructure and a skilled delivery workforce to translate

discoveries into improved treatments and services

• Partners with other public funders, charities and industry to maximise the value of

research to patients and the economy

The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through

research, and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its

national role, the NIHR commissions applied health research to benefit the poorest people in

low- and middle-income countries, using Official Development Assistance funding.

About The University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2018 and for the last eight years has been ranked in the top five UK universities for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.