A €10m Irish-led project has been launched to deliver more tailored treatment to those with Motor Neuron Disease (MND), using analysis of big data and artificial intelligence.
MND, also known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), causes progressive decline in movement, cognition and behaviour, and is a terminal disease with no effective treatments. Research has shown that it is caused by variable combinations of faulty genes that likely interact with lifestyle and environment.
Using data analysis, the ‘Precision ALS’ project will improve understanding of how these factors impact the development of the disease, which will in turn inform the development of ‘precision medicine’ drugs and treatments, which will work for each individual, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
Precision ALS is led by two Irish research centres, ADAPT hosted by Trinity College and FutureNeuro hosted by the RCSI.
Researchers will work in partnership with TRICALS, an international ALS research initiative, which will be contributing 10 years of data it has generated about MND/ALS through experts, patients, and patient advocacy groups.
Researchers will work together with industry partners including Biogen, Novartis, Takeda, IQVIA, Roche and Accenture on ‘precision medicine’ drug development that will result in better clinical outcomes for patients and reduce the economic cost of these diseases.
The research is supported by the Irish government through a Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) investment of €5 million, and an additional €5 million from industry partners.
Speaking at the launch on Tuesday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the project has the “potential to change lives”.
“This project straddles clinical research and industry, and will combine the best of our technologies, the best of our ideas, and the best of our medical expertise with the potential to change lives for the better,” he said.
Director of the Precision ALS research programme and Professor of Neurology at Trinity, Professor Orla Hardiman, said that thus far the success of clinical trials relating to MND/ALS has been “disappointing”.
We know now that ALS is heterogeneous, meaning that it has different causes and different patterns of progression. Large numbers are required to understand these differences. Using ‘big data’ analyses, Precision ALS will provide an in-depth understanding of the factors that drive heterogeneity, and in doing so will for the first time allow us to target new and innovative treatments to specific patient subgroups,” she said.
Precision ALS will be a first-in-kind Information and Computer Technology (ICT) framework for treating MND/ALS. It is envisaged that the technology could be easily adapted to other diseases that face similar precision medicine-related challenges.