The University of Sheffield and Parkinson’s UK have launched a new £1-million virtual biotech company as part of a research programme to create novel medicines for Parkinson’s disease.

Under the ground-breaking partnership, Keapstone Therapeutics will combine world-leading research from the University with funding and expertise from the charity to help develop revolutionary drugs for the condition, which affects around 127,000 people in the UK.

The deal marks the first time a charity has directly approached researchers to launch a spin-out company with the aim of advancing one particular research programme. It will enable the charity to “work virtually”, providing leadership and critical funding, in partnership with a range of other organisations that have the facilities to work on a contract basis.

“This major new programme of work will allow us to act in a similar way to a small biotech company. However, unlike a commercial company, our primary goal is the creation of new treatments to improve the lives of people with Parkinson’s, regardless of commercial considerations,” explained Arthur Roach, director of Research at Parkinson’s UK.

Keapstone will build on over a decade of research at the University’s Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN), where researchers have identified a way to trigger a possible in-built defence system that helps protect brain cells from oxidative stress, caused by a damaging build-up of free-radicals and found in the brain cells of people with Parkinson’s.

Keapstone will now fund the chemistry specialists, Sygnature Discovery, to further develop these new molecules, which could eventually become novel therapies that can slow or stop the progression of the condition.

The creation of Keapstone is part of Parkinson’s UK’s new Virtual Biotech venture, which was established to address lost opportunities in drug discovery and early clinical development caused by the changing pharma landscape.

“For years we have worked to support and accelerate the progression of research discoveries from the lab into clinical trials, with the aim of developing new drugs that can be used to manage and treat Parkinson’s. The launch of Keapstone marks an exciting step change in our strategy, which will allow us greater involvement in research and more flexibility to progress promising leads”, noted Steve Ford, the charity’s chief executive.