GSK and Dundee University collaboration to develop treatment for Huntington's disease

December 13, 2011

The University of Dundee and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) have entered into a joint research project to tackle Huntington's disease, an inherited brain disorder.

The project looks to build on the findings of Professor Susann Schweiger, of the University of Dundee, who has discovered a mechanism that controls production of the disease-causing protein involved in Huntington's Disease.

"If we can inhibit this process then we may prevent the build up of this toxic protein in the brain and hopefully provide a treatment for Huntington's Disease" said Professor Schweiger.

The research project will be led by Professor Schweiger and her research team, along with Dr Ros Langston and Professor Jeremy Lambert from the Division of Neuroscience, located within the new Medical Research Institute at the University of Dundee, and by Dr David Gray from the University's Drug Discovery Unit. The project brings together expertise in molecular genetics, behaviour, brain physiology and drug development in an exciting synergistic collaboration with researchers at GSK.

Professor Jeremy Lambert said, "This is a truly interdisciplinary effort and one which we are uniquely placed to tackle in Dundee. It is extremely heartening to see GSK, a global pharmaceutical company, focusing on an `orphan disease' like Huntington's. Their involvement greatly increases the chance of developing a treatment for this devastating disease."

Huntington's Disease is a devastating condition with symptoms typically beginning between 30 to 50 years of age. Patients may suffer from memory problems, anxiety and depression but all will eventually develop severe movement problems, leaving them unable to walk and care for themselves. There is currently no cure and patients die within 10-15 years of onset.

The disease is caused by a single gene defect. Anyone with a parent who has Huntington's Disease has a 50% chance of inheriting this fatal disease.

However, as Huntington's Disease is relatively rare, only affecting around 1 in 5,000 of the population, it is classed an `orphan disease' and consequently has not been seriously `targeted' by the pharmaceutical industry, until this breakthrough collaboration.

Cath Stanley, Chief Executive of the Huntington's Disease Association, commented, "This is an exciting step forward which will offer much needed hope to families affected by Huntington's disease."

The University and GSK are already engaged in a similar collaboration examining another orphan disease, Recessive Dystrophic Epidermylosis Bullosa, a rare disease of the skin and mucosal linings which results in highly painful, debilitating and lifelong skin blistering and puts patients at great risk of infection and of developing certain skin cancers. Again, there are currently no effective medicines to treat this disease.
For more information on Huntington's Disease see:


About the University of Dundee - The University of Dundee is internationally recognised for its excellence in life sciences and medical research with particular expertise in cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, neurosciences and skin diseases. The University has a top-rated medical school with research expanding from "the cell to the clinic to the community", while the College of Life Sciences is home to some of the world's most cited scientists and more than 800 research staff from 60 different countries.

The Medical Research Institute employs more than 500 scientists and clinicians, based on the University's Ninewells Hospital & Medical School campus, working together to tackle fundamental, complex problems in human health and translate innovative research into improved patient care.

The Drug Discovery Unit at Dundee has the remit of developing translational research by bringing together the Unit's experience of Drug Discovery in the Pharma/Biotech sector with basic academic research to identify new treatments for diseases. The DDU is the only fully operational and integrated drug discovery team within UK universities with the full range of disciplines required to produce novel hit and lead candidates across multiple disease areas.

University of Dundee

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