Tuesday, October 4, 2022

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Biotechnology News Magazine

Marco Baptista PhD Becomes New Chief Scientific Officer at the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation

Marco Baptista PhD will help lead the Foundation’s mission to advance cures for spinal cord injury (SCI) and paralysis and will provide scientific and innovative oversight of the nonprofit’s collaborative approach to accelerating the field toward meaningful therapeutics.

Dr. Baptista joins the Reeve Foundation as it celebrates 40 years of progress and the seismic shift that it helped steer to move the field of SCI research to its current state, whereby scientists agree that paralysis cures are not a matter of “if” but “when.” To date, the Foundation has funded more than $140 million of research around the world, uniting the brightest minds in the field to help usher a new era of scientific inquiry focused on developing and delivering treatments that are, today, pushing the world toward real cures.

“What began as a grassroots movement by pioneers who refused to accept the long-standing dogma that the spinal cord, once injured, could never be repaired is today an exciting field primed to cross the critical threshold of laboratory science to real-world therapies widely available to our community,” said Maggie Goldberg, President and CEO of the Reeve Foundation. “Dr. Baptista brings a special blend of neuroscience acumen to our organization, our research collaborative and the community of people living with or caring for someone with SCI. His strong industry knowledge will move us from the bench to the bedside. We’re honored to have him aboard.”

Dr. Baptista joins the Reeve Foundation from the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, where he served as Vice President of Research Programs. In his decade with the Fox Foundation, he led priority research around LRRK2, a major genetic mutation that can increase the chances of developing Parkinson’s disease – an area of study that had also been the focus of his efforts in the pharmaceutical industry, where he spent 5 years working at Schering-Plough, and then Merck when it acquired the company in 2009. He was trained as a Neuroscientist at the University of Toronto and McMaster University, Canada, where he received his Ph.D.

In his new role, Dr. Baptista will manage the Foundation’s research portfolio, which includes a number of high-profile endeavors with the potential to swiftly move the needle toward clinically approved and market-ready products. These include:

The Big Idea, a groundbreaking study at the University of Louisville investigating epidural stimulation to dramatically improve quality of life through improved cardiovascular health, bladder control, and other autonomic functions – and voluntary movement, including the previously impossible task of walking over ground. The trial is on track to be fully enrolled this summer.

Research-driven financial investments, such as a partnership with ONWARD, a Netherlands-based company that has developed breakthrough technology currently in global clinical trials that deliver targeted, programmed stimulation of the spinal cord to restore movement and other functions; and Axonis, an emerging biotech advancing breakthrough research to develop therapies for neurological disorders.

A strategic partnership with the UK’s International Spinal Research Trust (ISRT) to co-develop a research strategy with a joint focus on chronic injury, combination approaches and clinical translation. At the core of the alliance is a collaborative blueprint that aims to establish a framework for decision-making, planning and governance to advance the most promising therapies from the preclinical stage through clinical trials and into medical practice. Most recently, the Reeve Foundation and ISRT announced joint funding for a newly created translational award totaling $1.3 million, focused on restoring function in chronic SCI through novel circuit formation.

Support for the North American Clinical Trials Network (NACTN), a research network established by the Foundation that to date has enrolled more than 1000 subjects to a data registry; it also actively collaborates with other clinical trial networks in Europe and Canada. Dr. Baptista will liaise with the principal investigators leading this important, ongoing research.

Dr. Baptista will also spearhead the creation of a modern approach to the Foundation’s scientific endeavors – a novel platform designed to address roadblocks along the scientific continuum as it funds collaborative, translational research. The ultimate goal of the approach, which the Foundation aims to unveil in the coming months, will be laser-focused on accelerating progress toward commercialized, broadly available treatments. Critical to this endeavor will be creating a clinical translation ecosystem – and funding mechanism – that supports all aspects of therapeutic development – from clinical trial design to regulatory approval to reimbursement, and more.

“Joining the Reeve Foundation is a natural extension of my long and deep commitment both to studying the central nervous system and my desire to help people. With the Foundation’s reputation and impact in care and scientific research for those living with SCI, it’s an exciting place to be at the right moment in time,” said Dr. Baptista.

“The Reeve Foundation took this field from obscurity to one of real promise. Now – thanks in part to its funding of basic research, we’ve generated a solid understanding of the biological mechanisms underlying SCI and paralysis, and the drive toward cures is not a hammer looking at all the world as a nail. Rather, we can identify the studies that stand the greatest chances of success, learn quickly from those that fail, and remove barriers to our greatest shared goal: long-awaited cures,” he added.