‘A revolution is coming in treatments for neurodegenerative diseases’
Professor by Special Appointment of Clinical Neuropharmacology Geert Jan Groeneveld will deliver his inaugural lecture entitled ‘The importance of the biomarker’ on 11 March 2022. According to him, new genetic knowledge will revolutionise drug research.
Prof. Groeneveld is a neurologist and clinical pharmacologist at Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC), where he works at the Department of Anaesthesiology’s pain clinic. His chair was established by the Centre for Human Drug Research (CHDR) in Leiden, where he is Chief Medical and Scientific Officer.
The CHDR does drug research for pharmaceutical companies, more specifically the first clinical studies in humans. It also conducts its own research into test methods and the validation of biomarkers – measurable indicators of a biological condition that can demonstrate a drug’s effect. Groeneveld’s research focuses on neurology and pain medication.
‘I think we are at the beginning of a revolution’
Groeneveld specialises in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, ALS, Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease. ‘I focus on this type of disease in my inaugural lecture because I think we are at the beginning of a revolution comparable to that in oncology 20 years ago. Back then, cancer was only treated with very toxic drugs, chemotherapy. We have made progress since then; not because stronger poisons have been found, but through targeted treatments for genetic subgroups of cancer patients.’
The same is about to happen with neurodegenerative diseases, he says. ‘With the genetic knowledge of the biological processes of those diseases, I expect there to be drugs that focus on subgroups in the next ten or twenty years. That will lead to the identification of subtypes of these diseases and to more effective treatments.’
Parkinson’s disease as an example
In his inaugural lecture, Groeneveld gives the example of Parkinson’s patients with a mutation in the GBA1 gene. ‘A large study by CHDR and a consortium of neurologists, in cooperation with the LUMC, has shown that about 15% of Dutch Parkinson’s patients have such a mutation. A yet-to-be-developed drug that targets that specific defect could then possibly work in 15% of all patients in the Netherlands. Then you could soon speak of ‘GBA Parkinson’s’, almost a separate form of the disease with at least a separate treatment.’
Quantify at an early stage
In his inaugural lecture, Groeneveld links this development to his work CHDR. ‘We advocate early quantification of the intended drug effect in research. The methods and biomarkers that can demonstrate this, and which I am developing in my research, are aimed at this. Then you can demonstrate immediately in healthy test subjects that the drug does what it is supposed to do.’
Piece of an exciting puzzle
Future drugs that are developed on the basis of genetic knowledge will intervene fundamentally in the biology of a disease, he says. ‘The research into methods and biomarkers at CHDR must therefore develop alongside. We can then use the results in our studies for pharmaceutical companies. Then the circle is complete. That’s the piece of the puzzle that I am adding to the exciting process that awaits us.’ And he cannot do this alone, he emphasises in his inaugural lecture. ‘Collaboration with partners such as the LUMC Department of Neurology remains indispensable.’
Follow Professor Groeneveld’s inaugural lecture live on Friday 11 March from 16.00 to 17.00 via this link.