Professor Tara Spires-Jones is Personal Chair of Neurodegeneration and Deputy Director of the Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh. Her team pioneered techniques for studying interactions of proteins in synapses in human post-mortem tissue.
Cognition therapeutics (CogRx) is a biopharmaceutical company working toward treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. Their lead compound targets amyloid beta, one of the pathological proteins in Alzheimer’s and removes it from synapses where it is known to be particularly toxic. One of the big problems in the field has been that most of the data on synapses and amyloid beta has been found in mouse models.
Professor Tara Spires-Jones and her team were approached by the Chief Scientific Officer of CogRx about research collaborations and these have been ongoing since 2012. Together, they collected data from human tissue using Prof Spires-Jones’ techniques and CogRx’s compound. Some of the data was published in 2014 and helped get the company’s clinical trial to the next stage.
Professor Spires-Jones and her team continued to collaborate with CogRx using mouse models and human tissue techniques developed in the University of Edinburgh’s lab and the CogRx compounds to understand synapse degeneration in Alzheimer’s disease. They plan to continue working together to understand the brain and develop life changing treatments for dementia.
How collaboration with industry helped the research project
“Engagement with CogRx has helped my research tremendously.”- says Professor Tara Spires-Jones. “They were collaborators on my successful ERC Consolidator Award grant application, allowing us to test their compounds in a new mouse model of Alzheimer’s and in human stem cell derived neurons. This tool compound and the intellectual input from the CogRx team have allowed us to progress the field including confirming with super resolution in the human brain that their target receptor is close enough to amyloid beta to be a synaptic receptor in Alzheimer’s disease.”
In terms of impact for the world, this collaboration played a small part in advancing CogRx’s clinical trial, which if successful will help millions of people living with Alzheimer’s disease.
Why engage with industry partners
“Industry engagement is somewhat difficult to navigate at first because of the requirements to clear collaborations through legal teams due to intellectual property issues.”- says Professor Tara Spires-Jones. “However, I think it is very important, particularly in the medical fields as the things we discover have the potential to help people and industry engagement can help move science from discovery to bedside. I also find it very beneficial to the scientific process as industry colleagues often have different ways of approaching problems, and very relevant skill sets to offer to projects.”
Support from Edinburgh Innovations
Edinburgh Innovations has provided valuable information and advice about consulting with industry. They also helped with negotiating contracts.
Personally, this collaboration has been very beneficial as in addition to helping win major grant funding, CogRx has invited me to be on their Scientific Advisory Board. This was a new experience for me and brings external recognition of interaction with industry that is beneficial for grant applications and career progression.
Professor Tara Spires-Jones