Parkinson’s disease research roundup: Promising developments from April

Katie Dogan
By Katie Dogan

Bringing you insights from stories hitting the headlines across the life sciences sector in the past month. 

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Introducing April’s sector expert…Katie Dogan, Senior Content Executive 

With a background in biomedical science and an M.Sc. in science communication, Katie has a knack for conveying complex information through technically accurate and engaging content.

Katie likes to immerse herself in her clients’ work and their thinking to gain a deep understanding of their strategic goals and create content that resonates with target audiences and aligns seamlessly with objectives.

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder that has long cast a shadow over the lives of millions of people worldwide.

As we reflect on April, marked as Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month, we have the perfect opportunity to spotlight the latest advancements for treating this complex and challenging neurological disorder.

Parkinson’s disease is characterized by the gradual loss of dopamine-producing neurons in the brain, leading to a range of debilitating motor symptoms. These include tremors, slow movement and rigidity — which profoundly impact the quality of life for those affected.

Despite the significant burden of this disease, there is no cure. Current treatments focus on managing the symptoms, enhancing dopamine levels or mimicking its effects, but they do not address the underlying causes or slow the progression of Parkinson’s. However, the tide is turning. 

April saw several promising developments emerge, offering hope for better symptom management and potential disease-modifying treatments.

💡 Symptom control improved with tavapadon

Cerevel Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company, has announced positive results from a late-stage clinical trial of their Parkinson’s drug, tavapadon.

Tavapadon selectively activates specific dopamine receptors to provide the right balance of dopamine signaling. This delivers sustained motor control without the debilitating side effects often associated with current treatments.

The trial involving 507 Parkinson’s patients aged 40-80 yielded remarkable results.

Patients who received tavapadon alongside the common treatment, levodopa, experienced an additional 1.1 hours of symptom-free time compared to the placebo group. They also saw a substantial reduction in “off” time, when symptoms suddenly spike and movement becomes extremely difficult. 

While tavapadon demonstrated impressive results in improving symptom control, the search for disease-slowing treatments has also seen promising advancements.

⭐ Slowing the progression: A game-changing antibody therapy

The primary culprit of the onset of Parkinson’s is widely believed to be the accumulation of misfolded alpha-synuclein proteins, contributing to the degeneration of brain cells.

So, what if we could target and eliminate these troublesome misfolded proteins?

Enter prasinezumab, an innovative antibody therapy.

In a recent clinical trial involving over 300 individuals with early-stage Parkinson’s, prasinezumab demonstrated the ability to significantly slow the progression of motor symptoms compared to a placebo.

Prasinezumab is designed to bind to and aid the breakdown of misfolded alpha-synuclein clumps, potentially halting the disease advancement.

The results show that the treatment has substantial effects on individuals with rapidly progressing Parkinson’s, suggesting it may be particularly effective for those with a more aggressive form of the disease.

However, one limitation is that the study didn’t assess whether alpha-synuclein was being cleared from the brain. More research is still required to fully evaluate whether this drug can be classed as disease-modifying, but it remains a promising advancement that carries a lot of hope for Parkinson’s patients. 

🤝 Diabetes medications: An unexpected ally in the fight against Parkinson’s

Another exciting development in Parkinson’s research is the use of diabetes medications to alleviate symptoms and potentially slow disease progression. These drugs, known as GLP-1 agonists, have been found to have neuroprotective effects and may help regulate the levels of alpha-synuclein in the brain. 

The type 2 diabetes medication, exenatide, has previously been found to help slow the progression of motor symptoms in a small group of Parkinson’s patients. Now, researchers report that another type 2 diabetes drug, lixisenatide, may have a similar effect.

In a clinical trial involving 156 recently diagnosed Parkinson’s patients, those who received daily injections of lixisenatide showed essentially no progression of motor problems over 12 months, while the placebo group experienced worsening symptoms. The researchers say this suggests lixisenatide may reduce symptoms and protect the brain against the loss of neurons. 

Although the treatment showed promise in slowing Parkinson’s progression, it did come with some side effects, like nausea and vomiting, in many participants. Further research is still needed to fully evaluate the drug’s potential and optimize the dosage to minimize these drawbacks. 

This crossover is a fascinating intersection of medical research, proving that the answers we seek can sometimes be found in the most unexpected places.

📈 Accelerating drug discovery with AI 

Researchers have found a way to harness the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to identify potential new drug candidates for Parkinson’s disease. By leveraging advanced algorithms, scientists can sift through vast amounts of data and identify promising compounds that could lead to more effective treatments.

One way is to use AI to identify small molecules that inhibit the alpha-synuclein clumps forming, putting the brakes on the runaway process of alpha-synuclein aggregation that drives Parkinson’s progression. 

Typically, it takes 10-15 years and costs, on average, over €1-2 billion to bring a new treatment to the market. This AI-driven approach has the potential to accelerate the drug discovery process significantly, opening up new avenues for exploration and hope. 

A brighter future on the horizon

As we reflect on the remarkable advancements in treating Parkinson’s disease, it’s clear that the future holds immense promise.

From groundbreaking antibody therapies and repurposed diabetes drugs to the cutting-edge power of AI, the scientific community is leaving no stone unturned in the quest to improve the lives of those affected by this debilitating condition.

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