Researchers are tapping into a century-old drug to help treat patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
During the American Academy of Neurology’s 69th Annual Meeting in Boston from April 22 to 28, a research team presented new evidence from a double-blind, randomized phase III study that the drug apomorphine—which dates back to 1865—could be effective in treating Parkinson’s.
Levodopa has been the standard of care for Parkinson’s for several years, helping to improve the quality of life and longevity of patients.
However, as the disease progresses, the medication often wears off quicker after each dose, leaving patients to experience periods of immobility called “off” time.
“If a person with Parkinson’s disease can reduce their ‘off’ times, that can have a great impact on their everyday life,” Dr. Regina Katzenschlager of Danube Hospital, affiliated with the Medical University of Vienna, Austria and study author, said in a statement. “In some patients in the trial, the insecurity of unpredictable periods of incapacity was completely alleviated.”
Apomorphine—an oral drug—was first used in the U.S. in 1950 and its use expanded in the 1990’s when European doctors started using the drug to treat fluctuations in mobility that could not be controlled by pills.
The researchers examined 107 people with advanced Parkinson’s disease from 23 centers in seven countries and randomly selected the patients to receive either apomorphine subcutaneous infusion or a placebo saline infusion. Each infusion was administered for 14 to 18 hours a day through a small portable pump similar to what is used in treatment of type I diabetes.
According to the results, the patients that were given apomorphine had a significantly greater reduction of “off” time than those who were given the placebo. The patients who received the drug had on average 2.5 hours less “off” time per day, while those who received the placebo only saw an average of 30 minutes less of “off” time per day.
The patients who received the drug also had an increase in “on” time without the abnormal involuntary movements that are often prevalent with levodopa dosages.
Of the patients with the drug treatment, 71 percent said they felt their condition improved after three months, while 18 percent of the placebo group said their condition improved. Also, 19 percent of the patients on apomorphine said their condition worsened while 45 percent of the placebo patients said it worsened.
“It is our hope that these findings confirming the efficacy of apomorphine infusion will encourage doctors in the United States to offer this treatment to their patients and assess its efficacy in their own clinical practice,” Katzenschlager said.