The Fox Focus Spring/Summer 2017 - Page 4

Research WHERE ARE WE NOW? PARKINSON’S DISEASE 200 YEARS LATER by KAT McCARRICK 2017 marks two centuries since English physician Dr. James Parkinson first characterized the disease that would later become his namesake. There has been significant research progress in the 200 years since Dr. Parkinson published An Essay on Shaking Palsy, but for those who live with Parkinson’s disease (PD) today, the most important breakthrough has yet to be realized: a cure. For decades following Dr. Parkinson’s publication, PD research lay relatively dormant. It wasn’t until 1968 that the “gold standard” therapy, levodopa, was developed. Today, it remains the most widely prescribed drug for Parkinson’s, though research continues toward improving its formulation and delivery to lessen side effects. modifying treatment. Researchers have identified promising targets now pushing into human trials that are today’s best hope for a cure. In February, Sanofi Genzyme initiated the first ever clinical trial for a PD therapy to slow or stop disease progression in which participants were selected by their genetic information. Leading up to the turn of the 21st century, the Parkinson’s drug pipeline was stalled and largely focused on “me-too” drugs (mostly dopamine agonists). And while great hope continues to attend stem cell research, this approach did not prove to be the silver bullet many had hoped for. As more therapies advance to human testing, the need for a Parkinson’s biomarker (an objective measurement of the disease) grows. In 2010, The Michael J. Fox Foundation launched the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI) to address this critical missing link. At launch, PPMI had zero industry partners; today, 20 biotech and pharma companies support 33 clinical sites in 11 countries (with more than 1,000 participants contributing precious biosamples and data). Not even two decades later, it’s a new story — one filled with hope. Today, our understanding of disease symptoms has expanded well beyond Dr. Parkinson’s initial classification to include non-motor aspects of PD. New mechanisms addressing these and undertreated motor symptoms have potential to improve patients’ quality of life (read more on page 6). Two centuries is too long to wait for a cure, but the past two decades alone give tremendous cause for optimism. See page 2 to learn how you (and your family) can help usher in the next generation of treatments and accelerate a cure within our lifetime. Over the past decade, genetic discovery has revolutionized the pursuit of a disease- 4 The Fox Focus