Teams working on research that could translate into treatments for Motor Neurone Disease have been bidding for support from a new £1m joint fund.

Medical research charity LifeArc and the MND Association have established the joint translational research fund to support researchers to develop treatments for MND building on recent advances in understanding the mechanics of the disease. Despite those advances, there is still no effective clinical treatment for MND.

Researchers from across the UK and the Republic of Ireland are now having their applications for grants up to £500,000 considered following the application deadline of June 10.

Their translational research projects must be focused on developing new therapies or repurposing existing treatments for MND. Although the research has to be UK or Ireland-led, applications from teams working with international partners were acceptable.

Both LifeArc and the MND Association have contributed £500,000 to the fund. The MND Association’s share is part of the £2.2m raised by Kevin Sinfield of rugby league club Leeds Rhinos. He ran seven marathons in seven days last December – inspired by former teammate Rob Burrow, who was diagnosed with MND a year earlier.

Dr Brian Dickie, director of research development at the MND Association, said: “Our understanding of the causes of this devastating degenerative condition has improved dramatically over the last two decades, but clinicians are still unable to offer their patients any truly effective treatments.

“These advances have driven MND to the forefront of neurological disease research and we want to capitalise on that momentum. The research we are seeking to fund will build on that enhanced basic scientific understanding to develop potential therapies. That is how we can begin to offer real hope to people with the condition and their families.”

Dr Catriona Crombie, head of LifeArc’s Philanthropic Fund, emphasised that the focus of the new fund is on boosting research that already has a strong scientific foundation backed by credible data.

She said: “This work fits with LifeArc’s approach over the last 25 years to translate early science into health care treatments or diagnostics that can transform patients’ lives.

“The fund will plug the gap between fundamental research into MND disease mechanisms and possible treatment options reflecting advances in our understanding of those mechanisms.

“This is about stimulating the search for effective treatments: now that scientists understand the mechanisms of the disease, they can build on that knowledge to identify and eventually test potential practical treatment approaches.”

“Our partnership with the MND Association is the latest in a series of strategic collaborations that leverage LifeArc’s expertise in driving strong discoveries from the lab into benefitting patients with conditions that have no or few effective treatment options.”

The fund will therefore support teams that are working on:

  • Developing candidate therapeutic entities (e.g. small molecule drugs, antibody drugs or gene therapies)
  • Pre-clinical testing of novel therapeutics in vitro or in vivo
  • Pre-clinical validation for existing therapeutics that could be repurposed for MND
  • Early-phase clinical trials (phase 1/2) of novel therapeutic compounds
  • Early-phase clinical trials of existing therapeutics repurposed for MND.

Kevin Sinfield, who is now Leeds Rhinos’ director of rugby after a long playing career with the club, said: “We have seen over the last year the vital work that can be done by researchers and scientists when they are given the vital resources they need. MND is not incurable; it has just been underfunded and our hope, like that of everyone affected by this brutal disease, including Rob, is that this money will make a real difference and help find the breakthrough we all desperately want.”

Successful projects will be expected to have a strong scientific rationale, be up to three years in duration and be target-driven with set milestones and a credible delivery plan – including a clear route to reach MND patients.