Ireland’s Elan Corporation is investing US$10 million over five years in the initial phase of The Cambridge-Elan Centre for Research Innovation and Drug Discovery, newly launched at the University of Cambridge with a remit to find innovative therapies for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Under a 10-year agreement, scientists at the Centre – to based in the university’s Department of Chemistry – will leverage Cambridge University’s work on biophysical approaches to studying the molecular basis of protein misfolding and aggregation, as well as their links to Alzheimer’s disease, with Elan’s two decades of  experience in Alzheimer’s research, its strengths in biology and model systems, and the translational capabilities that brought Tysabri (natalizumab) to market for the treatment of multiple sclerosis.

The agreement, which the partners said “paves the way for a long-term collaboration between Elan and the University of Cambridge”, builds on an existing working relationship between Elan’s US researchers  in South San Francisco and scientists at the University of Cambridge.

The aim of the formalised collaboration is to discover new therapies capable of interrupting the process that leads to the production and accumulation of the toxic protein beta amyloid in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients.

Molecular origins

As Christopher Dobson, John Humphrey Plummer Professor of Chemical and Structural Biology at the University of Cambridge, pointed out, his researchers have already “spent more that 10 years engaged in interdisciplinary research in order to understand the fundamental molecular origins of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases”.

The main goal of the new Centre will be to extend these activities into discovering novel compounds and characterising the fundamental physico-chemical mechanisms by which they alter the behaviour of proteins associated with neurodegenerative disorders, Professor Dobson added.

Dale Schenk, executive vice president and chief scientific officer at Elan, said the collaborative effort “complements our portfolio of programmes in neuroscience and supports the process of discovery which we believe may lead to a class of therapeutics that no one has thought possible before”.  

Highly interdisciplinary

The Cambridge-Elan Centre for Research Innovation and Drug Discovery “will provide a highly interdisciplinary environment uniquely positioned for delivering world-leading translational research focused on innovative therapies for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases”, the two partners stated.

Beyond Elan’s US$10 million investment, no details were released on the financial particulars of the relationship or the distribution of rights to any discoveries arising from it.