BERKELEY, Calif.--Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (LBL) and Somatix Therapy Corporation of Alameda, Calif. (NASDAQ: SOMA), have signed a $2.5 million, three-year Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) for Parkinson's disease research. Under the terms of this agreement, Somatix will use LBL's imaging technology to monitor neurochemical activity in the brains of animals treated with Somatix's gene therapy.
In this animal study, Somatix will use its proprietary gene transfer technology to genetically alter fibroblasts (skin cells) to produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. Insufficient levels of this compound in the brain are associated with Parkinson's disease.
Once the modified fibroblasts are implanted into areas of the brain where the neurotransmitter is needed, LBL's positron emission tomography (PET) or single photon computed tomography (SPECT) scanning techniques will be used to ascertain if dopamine production has been restored. Radiolabelled compounds which bind to cells secreting neurotransmitters are detected by the PET or SPECT scans. Maps of cell secretion before and after treatment can be compared to assess if new neurochemical activity is generated as a direct result of the implantation.
LBL's technology differs significantly from magnet resonance imaging (MRI) which cannot provide information on cell function. Instead, MRI scans can only detect location and physical condition of implanted cells.
Key investigators in the collaboration are William Jagust, M.D., of the Center for Functional Imaging, in LBL's Life Sciences Division and Associate Professor of Neurology at U.C. Davis, and Kris Bankiewicz, M.D., section head of preclinical studies in Somatix's neural program.
"We are pleased to be working with LBL on this project," stated David Carter, president and chief executive officer of Somatix. "Dr. Jagust's team will play an important role in the development of our gene therapy treatment for Parkinson's disease. LBL's imaging systems will allow us to see neurochemical activity indicative of our procedure's validity."
Charles V. Shank, Director of LBL, said the agreement with Somatix reflects the Laboratory's commitment to industrial research partnerships for the benefit of the nation. "Collaborative efforts like this, combining the dividends of LBL's 50-year investment in imaging technology with Somatix's expertise in gene therapy, offer our best hope for solving the mysteries of medical challenges like Parkinson's," Shank said.
Parkinson's, a debilitating disease marked by rigidity, uncontrollable tremors and impaired gait, affects over 800,000 persons in the United States. Current treatments are of limited efficacy.
LBL is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified scientific research and is managed by the University of California.
Somatix Therapy Corporation is a leader in the field of gene therapy. The company intends to research, develop and commercialize proprietary processes for the genetic modification of cells and their use in the treatment of human disease. Somatix' assets include its highly efficient gene transfer technology, broad-based intellectual property and product development programs focused on cancer, neural diseases and hemophilia.