Grants totalling US$2 million have been awarded to five research teams under an initiative created last December by the US-based Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research to accelerate the development of effective therapies for the under-addressed cognitive and mood-related symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

The initiative is a partnership between the Foundation and Merck Serono (Merck KgaA), which has provided leadership funding for the programme. The grants will support preclinical and clinical projects on cognitive deficits and mood disorders in Parkinson’s, which range from problems with executive function (the ability to formulate, sequence and execute plans) to dementia, depression, apathy and anxiety as well as behavioural issues including problems with impulse control.

Patients often say these symptoms are among the most difficult aspects of living with Parkinson’s disease, the Fox Foundation noted. Yet they are “systematically under-researched and are poorly understood”, added chief executive officer Katie Hood.

As the Foundation pointed out, the development of treatments for cognitive and mood symptoms in Parkinson’s disease has been hampered by a lack of relevant preclinical models as well as basic knowledge of the mechanisms underlying the symptoms; inadequate understanding of the clinical features of these symptoms in Parkinson’s; and a need for relevant clinical scales to improve diagnoses and for use as tools in clinical intervention trials.

The five research research teams at Vanderbilt, Harvard and Rush Universities in the US, the Academic Medical Centre in the Netherlands and the University of Toronto in Canada will pursue approaches within each of these areas, with the aim of improving capacity to model and test interventions for the cognitive and mood-related symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.