Fruit flies used to help cure Parkinson’s disease

An adult fruit fly. Picture: Jane Barlow
An adult fruit fly. Picture: Jane Barlow
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AN Edinburgh University spin-out company has been given a massive boost in its efforts to develop a cure for Parkinson’s disease using fruit flies.

Parkure Ltd has successfully attracted more than £75,000 in crowdfunding investment to allow it to carry on with its research to help beat the degenerative condition which affects one in every 500 people in the UK.

Drugs are currently available to treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s but there is no cure.

Parkure’s search for a cure focuses on genetically-
engineered fruit flies which develop the disease.

It opted for crowdfunding to raise finance because traditional sources of investment are often reluctant to back drug discovery ventures at their early stages.

Parkure linked up with the Edinburgh-based, technology-focused crowdfunding firm ShareIn to help raise the necessary cash. Would-be investors were offered a share of any profits generated from a successful drug in return for a minimum outlay of £500.

It is the first time such a model of equity crowdfunding has been used to finance drug discovery for a disease as big as Parkinson’s.

The global market for drugs which simply treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s is currently £1.8 billion. However, Parkure’s focus of a cure for the disease could open up a new market, worth a conservative estimate of at least £2bn.

Parkure has adopted a “drug repurposing” approach in its research, which involves testing drugs that have already been certified as safe for human use to see whether they could offer a cure for Parkinson’s.

The firm says the system is cheap, fast and ready to go. It will test as many candidate drugs as possible, maximising the probability of identifying compounds that work and developing them further with pharmaceutical companies.

Parkure chief executive Dr Lysimachos Zografos said: “Crowdfunding can provide an excellent way to bridge the funding gap for early stage companies.

“We have a tough challenge ahead but now we are even more driven, committed and energised because of all of those who supported us.”

Grant Wheeler, head of company formation at the university’s commercialisation arm, Edinburgh Research and 
Innovation, said: “We are delighted to see one of the companies supported through the university’s enterprise programme successfully attract external investment.

“The fact it came through crowdfunding confirms that this source of financial support to encourage spin-out and start-up companies to bring their technology to market provides an alternative to venture capital investment.”

Most people who develop Parkinson’s start showing symptoms after the age of 50, but it can affect younger people too. Men are also more likely to develop the disease than women.

The symptoms can be debilitating, including body tremors, rigidity and stiffness of movement, but can also lead to dementia, anxiety and depression.