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Potential Parkinson’s Drug Continues to Show Promise

By Kate Ruder

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A new drug for Parkinson’s disease, called rasagiline, seems to work best when started early in the course of the disease and taken over a significant period of time, such as a year, according to the results of a clinical trial to test the effectiveness of the drug.

Previous clinical trails had shown that for some patients in the early stages of Parkinson’s rasagiline reduces some symptoms, including the tremors that make it difficult to carry out daily tasks such as cutting food and writing.

In the new study, researchers randomly assigned 371 patients with early Parkinson’s to two groups. One group took the drug for a year while the other took a placebo for six months before taking rasagiline for another six months.

Those who took the drug for a full year had milder symptoms than patients who delayed taking the drug for six months, according to a series of measures the researchers tested.

“There seems to be some positive long-term effect to taking rasagiline,” says Andrew Siderowf of the University of Pennsylvania, who is a member of Parkinson Study Group that led the research. The study group is an independent collaboration of Parkinson’s researchers from the United States and Canada.

Why patients who start the treatment early are better off is not yet known, but one possibility is that the drug somehow slows the progression of the disease, says Siderowf.

Rasagiline and older drugs, such as Selegiline, belong to a group of medications that target the brain chemical dopamine, which is thought to be involved in Parkinson’s.

Teva Pharmaceutical of Israel makes rasagiline, and the company applied to the US Food and Drug Administration for approval of the drug in September 2003. The findings of the new study, which was funded by the company, appear in Archives of Neurology.

Parkinson Study Group. A Controlled, Randomized, Delayed-Start Study of Rasagiline in Early Parkinson Disease. Archives of Neurology 61 (April 2004).

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