New Parkinson's Drug May Aid Movement Difficulties

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Opicapone, added to standard treatment, appears safe and well-tolerated, researchers say

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Alan Mozes

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Jan. 3, 2017 (HealthDay News) — New research suggests that people with Parkinson’s disease may achieve better and more reliable motor control by taking an experimental drug called opicapone alongside the standard medication levodopa.

A study of several hundred Parkinson’s patients found that the drug — opicapone — boosts levodopa’s ability to control the motor difficulties associated with Parkinson’s, said study co-author Dr. Patricio Soares-da-Silva.

These motor problems include tremors, stiffness, and slowed movement.

Opicapone (Ongentys) appears to be an improvement over current treatment options, said Soares-da-Silva. He is director of research and development for the drug’s maker, Bial-Portela & Ca. SA, in Portugal.

There’s no known cure for Parkinson’s, a progressive neuro-degenerative disease. Nor is there any treatment that effectively slows or stops disease progression, according to the Michael J. Fox Foundation. The foundation was established to find a cure for Parkinson’s.

However, certain medications — like levodopa — can help control the movement problems.

The tremors and other motor difficulties arise because of insufficient dopamine — a chemical messenger, or neurotransmitter. Levodopa (Sinemet) is a central nervous system medication. In the body, the brain converts it into dopamine.

Levodopa, a pill, remains the most important first-line drug for the management of Parkinson’s, according to the National Parkinson Foundation.

But levodopa is tough to take. Because it can cause severe nausea, it must be taken with the drug carbidopa. Carbidopa (Lodosyn) prevents nausea and enhances levodopa’s potency.

Also, as Parkinson’s progresses, long-term levodopa patients often experience a wearing-off effect known as dyskinesia, which is characterized by frequent involuntary movement.

Two drugs known as COMT inhibitors are used to combat this effect, but both have serious downsides. One raises the risk for liver failure, while the other only boosts levodopa effectiveness moderately, still leaving patients with a frustrating roller coaster of treatment reliability, the researchers said.

The new study set out to explore a possible new option, opicapone. It, too, inhibits the COMT enzyme.

To test it, the researchers recruited 427 Parkinson’s patients (average age 63) from 71 health care facilities across 12 countries.

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