Friday, March 22, 2013

Parkinson’s Patients May Be Harmed by Novel Treatment

One of the most promising new approaches to treating Parkinson’s disease hit a snag after researchers found early evidence it may make people worse.

The experimental technique involves reducing levels of alpha-synuclein, a protein found in clumps in the brains of people with Parkinson’s that increases the risk of the disease. Research presented at the American Academy of Neurology meeting in San Diego shows the condition progresses more rapidly in patients with naturally low levels of the protein.

Companies including Elan Corp., Alnylam Pharmaceuticals Inc. (ALNY), NeuroPhage Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Prana Biotechnology Ltd. (PBT) have early-stage efforts under way to develop drugs aimed at alpha-synuclein. The Michael J. Fox Foundation has put more than $47 million into research targeting the protein. The results suggest patients in clinical trials to lower alpha- synuclein may be at risk, said Demetrius Maraganore, a study author.

“There is a sense of urgency related to their safety,” Maraganore, who is chairman of neurology at NorthShore University Health System in Evanston, Illinois, said in a telephone interview. “If this work is reproducible and our interpretation of the findings is correct, this has immediate relevance to people with Parkinson’s.”

The study released yesterday found patients with a genetic variant that led to the lowest production of alpha-synuclein were 23 percent more likely to develop dementia or need a wheelchair than those who made the most of it.

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