Basel, Switzerland- The Sean M. Healey & AMG Center for ALS at Massachusetts General Hospital awarded the fifth annual Sean M. Healey International Prize for Innovation in ALS to the team responsible for the establishment of neurofilament biomarkers as an early diagnostic and prognostic biomarker for ALS.

The global team includes:

  1. Robert Bowser, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer, Professor and Chair, Barrow Neurological Institute, USA
  2. Martin Turner, MBBS, PhD, FRCP, Professor of Clinical Neurology and Neuroscience, Oxford University, UK
  3. Michael Benatar, MBChB, DPhil, Professor of Neurology, University of Miami, USA
  4. Andrea Malaspina, MBBS, PhD, FRCP Professor of Neurology, UCL, USA
  5. Markus Otto, MD, Professor, University Medicine Halle, Germany
  6. The team from Biogen Therapeutics, Cambridge, USA

The prize was presented to the team during the 34th International Symposium on ALS/MND in Basal, Switzerland by Merit Cudkowicz, MD, Director of the Healey & AMG Center at Mass General and Regan Healey.

Biomarkers are critical for the development of more effective drugs for ALS, and neurofilaments are the first soluble biomarkers for ALS that have demonstrated a strong and consistent correlation with clinical outcomes. Further, reductions in neurofilament levels have now been shown to predict clinical benefit in people with ALS. Early studies involved the development of suitable assays and characterization in pre-clinical models. Correlation with these findings in human CSF and plasma revealed that neurofilaments were related to prognosis in ALS.

The identification of neurofilament changes in people living with ALS before the onset of clinical symptoms in those ALS individuals carrying mutations in Superoxide Dismutase (SOD1) has now made it possible to design a trial to intervene much earlier with therapeutic approaches. The reduction of neurofilaments in CSF and plasma is linked to improved clinical outcomes after treatment intervention and is the first time a soluble biomarker has been directly linked to a positive outcome in patients.

“We are extremely grateful to have been selected for this prize in what is an unprecedented time for new discoveries and understanding in ALS biology, and a tangible increase in the hope for improved therapeutics” the team said in a joint statement. “The neurofilament story involves a far wider group of individuals and laboratories from across the world. Progress in the biomarker field reflects a deep scientific partnership with those who are living with ALS, the many we have lost to ALS and those burdened with the threat of future ALS. Their commitment to engage with our research and give their precious time and samples is deeply humbling and will lead us to a world free of ALS.”

“The researchby Drs. Bowser, Turner, Benatar, Malaspina, Otto, and the team from Biogen has been transformative for the landscape of ALS Research” said Cudkowicz, who is also the Chair of Neurology at Mass General Hospital. “Identifying biomarkers of disease in ALS is pivotal in the fight to cure ALS, and I am confident that the team will continue to produce exemplary results.”

“On a disease terrain as vast and varied as ALS the discovery of biomarkers is critical to patient assessment and the acceleration of proven therapies. My brother, Sean, was an expansive and incisive thinker who envisioned this kind of discovery when he conceptualized the Innovation Prize” said Regan Healey, sister of Sean M. Healey.  “Sean knew it would take collaboration and endless drive to push us forward.”

The annual Sean M. Healey International Prize for Innovation in ALS is a global prize celebrating excellence in research for a team of investigators who catalyze exceptional discoveries leading to a transformative advance in therapy development in ALS. To learn more about this $50,000 USD prize and how to nominate a team, click here.  

For more information about the Sean M. Healey & AMG Center for ALS, please visit the website.