On Tuesday January 30, 2018 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced the NIH Accelerating Medicines Partnership for Parkinson's Disease (AMP PD), a public-private partnership focused on identifying and validating promising biomarkers of Parkinson's disease. Verily, a partner in the collaboration, will build the Knowledge Portal to enable the sharing of de-identified data and findings among all the AMP PD partners as well as the greater research community. We sat down with Dr. William Marks, Jr., MD, MS-HCM, Head of Clinical Neurology at Verily, to discuss what this endeavor means for the future of Parkinson’s disease research. Dr. Marks leads Verily’s research efforts in Parkinson’s disease and other neurological conditions, as well as provides oversight of many clinical products and platforms. Throughout his career he has helped develop specialized, multidisciplinary clinical care and research centers for neurological disorders, including Parkinson’s disease.
Q. What are the big problems that AMP PD is targeting?
A. AMP PD is systematically addressing a vexing reality: despite advances in treating the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, we don’t yet have an intervention that actually decelerates or halts the progression of the underlying neurodegeneration that occurs in Parkinson’s disease. AMP PD harnesses the power of bringing together data sets and biosamples from the largest Parkinson’s cohorts for unified analyses to facilitate new insights into the disease and, ultimately, accelerate the development of effective treatments.
Q. Verily will build the Knowledge Portal for the AMP PD. What will the Knowledge Portal do and how will it help the goals of AMP PD?
A. Key to making sense of the multi-dimensional and large-scale data to be generated in the AMP PD initiative is the infrastructure to organize, curate, and optimize these complex data for analyses by researchers. The Knowledge Portal that Verily is building will enable just that – and in a cloud computing environment that provides the capacity and tools needed to extract new insights from the rich data. We believe strongly in the vision of the Data Biosphere and will be following its modular, community-driven, open, standards-based principles as we build the Knowledge Portal. We believe that approach will amplify the potential impact of this partnership and support broad research goals in Parkinson’s disease.
Q. What makes this an exciting project to work on?
A. I’m thrilled that Verily is joining forces with the National Institutes of Health and the other AMP PD partners to work together to better understand the molecular and clinical markers of Parkinson’s disease and its varying manifestations and modes of progression. As a clinical researcher, I appreciate the unique capabilities that Verily can contribute to bringing advanced analytical techniques to this initiative and am hopeful that the collaboration will accelerate progress in surfacing discoveries that lead to improved lives for those affected by Parkinson’s disease.
Q. If you could change one thing about how neurological research is conducted today, what would that be?
A. One of the frustrations in clinical research of neurological disorders is the relatively crude state of measures available to characterize and track the signs and symptoms of these conditions. We need more sensitive, objective, and relevant ways to detect the onset, severity, and progression or stability of these disorders. Verily is therefore focused on developing such measures – be they digital or molecular – to speed therapy development and improve disease management and outcomes.
Q. Verily is also involved with the Personalized Parkinson’s Project, which you oversee for the company. What else is Verily up to in Parkinson’s research and how does everything fit together?
A. I believe that Verily’s approach to tackling health conditions in a deep and diversified way provides the opportunity to make meaningful advances in the understanding and treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Thus, we’ve partnered with Radboud University in the Netherlands to conduct a comprehensive assessment of patients with recently diagnosed Parkinson’s disease. This will help us define and understand Parkinson's disease in entirely new ways. We’re conducting our own studies at Verily to analyze movement in participants with Parkinson’s disease using wearable technology. This work will allow us to bring new clinical trial endpoints to organizations developing treatments for Parkinson's disease and provide clinicians with new tools to better help their patients. We’re continuing to explore opportunities to support other research programs, especially those with a focus on developing new biomarkers of Parkinson's disease progression or gaining insights into the effects of novel therapeutics. Ultimately, we want investigators and clinicians to have timely information about whether an intervention is working in order to accelerate the pace of research and enhance clinical care.
Q. What is your vision for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease?
A. My goal is for Verily to help enable a world where those at risk for Parkinson’s disease can be readily identified and then receive effective treatment to prevent or at least delay the onset of symptoms. Should symptoms occur, we want to facilitate individualized treatments that effectively minimize adverse impacts of the disease on quality of life for everyone in the world affected by this condition. We are working with urgency to make this vision a reality.
To learn more about the AMP PD program, see the NIH’s Accelerating Medicines Partnership homepage, NIH’s press release, and the press release from The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.