A successful test of a new drug indicates that it can improve life for those with moderate and advanced Parkinson’s disease. Called rasagiline, the medication promises to reduce the time when other drugs are least effective and symptoms of tremors, stiffness, and impaired movement are at their worst, researchers report.
“It made life easier and more predictable for patients who took it over a six-month trial period,” says David Standaert, an associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. “Instead of taking other drugs several times a day, rasagiline can be taken only once in the morning.”
Many Parkinson’s patients take levodopa, usually the first drug given when symptoms begin to impair movement. But levodopa’s beneficial effects often wear off. Sufferers gradually experience more and more “off'” times, when the drug is least effective. When hundreds of such patients living in 57 different places in the United States and Canada took rasagiline, their bad times decreased significantly.
“Patients in our study who were taking levodopa experienced at least two and a half hours of ‘off’ time a day,” Standaert notes. “We saw a net reduction in that time of about one hour with a higher dose of rasagiline. A lower dose provided an extra half-hour of ‘on’ time.”
Another study published in 2002 showed that rasagiline helps patients in the early stages of Parkinson’s who do not take levodopa. “Now we have found that those with more advanced disease can also get significant relief,” Standaert adds.
The new research results were reported in the February issue of the Archives of Neurology. Not included in this report is some preliminary evidence that rasagiline may slow the inexorable progress of this incurable disease. “We see some signs that the longer people take rasagiline, the slower their disease progresses,” Standaert says. “It’s an intriguing finding, but we can make no claims until we get more proof.”