Perron Institute partners in Asia

28/11/2017 - 15:43

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Perron Institute has committed to strengthening international ties in Asia to expand its global reach, resources and research capacity.

Perron Institute partners in Asia
Steve Wilton (left) with Sue Fletcher says global diseases require international collaboration. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Perron Institute for Neurological and Translational Science has partnered with a university in Hong Kong, pooling staff, students and ideas to improve its capacity to tackle neurodegenerative diseases.

The institute hopes to secure a number of additional partnerships with universities across Hong Kong and China.

Muscular dystrophy, Alzheimer’s, dementia, stroke and Parkinson’s occur around the world, says Steve Wilton, and the last thing researchers should do is act as individual silos.

“It’s by sharing the data as openly and freely as possible in a respectful collaboration that people will benefit,” Professor Wilton, Perron Institute director and foundation chair in molecular therapy at Murdoch University, told Business News.

Professor Wilton said the partnerships would also benefit students’ development by facilitating exchange and travel opportunities.

“It’s always good to look at different venues; if you do all your study in one university, in one lab, in one place you get tunnel vision,” he said.

The driving force behind the partnerships has been Danish businessman Hans Michael Jebsen, friend and business partner of Perron Institute board member Torsten Ketelsen.

The chair of marketing, manufacturing and distribution company Jebsen Group, Mr Jebsen is based in Hong Kong, where he has close ties with lead researchers at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Last week, Perron Institute patron in chief and Western Australian Governor, Kerry Sanderson, announced Mr Jebson’s appointment as Perron Institute ambassador to Hong Kong.

“This (international partnership) breaks new ground for neuroscience in Western Australia, and supports our strong belief in the concept of sharing research challenges to benefit more people sooner,” Ms Sanderson said.

Mr Jebsen said he was happy to accept the appointment.

“By harnessing and combining (the partners’) substantial talent and expertise, we have the potential to cross new frontiers and accelerate the pace of scientific and medical discoveries,” he said.

The initial research focuses for the partnership participants will include muscular dystrophy and other neuromuscular disorders, neural repair and brain plasticity, and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and motor neuron disease.

Gene-patching progression

In partnership with Sue Fletcher, Perron Institute’s director of research and deputy director at Murdoch University’s Centre for Comparative Genomics, Professor Wilton developed a gene-patching drug that prevents the progression of Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

“Think of the gene-patching drug as a genetic whiteout,” Professor Wilton said.

“When a gene is expressed it makes a photocopy-type message, and there can be a spelling error in that message.

“What we do is we work out where the (error) is and we use this patch like a whiteout, we just cover it on the photocopy.

“We can’t change the gene, but we can change the way the gene is processed.”

He said the collaborations with Hong Kong would further his efforts by: creating scales of economy to reduce the price of the drug and thereby increase accessibility; and opening up opportunities to apply the gene-patching concept to other neuro-degenerative diseases.

The drug was granted advanced approval in September 2016 by the US Food and Drug Administration. It can be sold in the US by Sarepta Therapeutics, and now Europe, but is in need of further trials.

“What Sue and I are desperate to do is get the technology extended right around Australia to benefit as many patients as possible,” Professor Wilton said.

“The thing is, it’s going to be very, very expensive.”

He said Sarepta Therapeutics had spent $800 million on his Duchenne drugs to date.

“The way we’re looking at it is that the more patients and people we can get into this, there is going to be a greater demand on the drug, so we’re hoping there’ll be scales of economy (in Asia),” Professor Wilton said.

With the support of Hong Kong universities, he said the chances of finding suitable candidates for trials had greatly increased.

This also presents an opportunity for professors Wilton and Fletcher to look into applying similar drugs to other diseases, which is something that attracted Mr Jebsen’s interest.

Mr Jebsen intends to garner philanthropic support for developments between Perron Institute and Hong Kong’s University of Science and Technology through a fundraising event next year.

Professor Wilton and Fletcher's gene-patching drugs were developed and licensed through the University of Western Australia, prior to their positions with Murdoch. 

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