Rochester study aids Parkinson's patients

The results of a University study have led to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of an effective new drug to combat Parkinson's disease with fewer side effects than similar drugs currently on the market. Patients treated with pramipexole dihydrochloride see an average 20-percent reduction in the severity of their symptoms, according to the study, the first large-scale study of the drug's effects on patients in the early stages of Parkinson's disease.

The drug will be available this month in pharmacies around the nation, under the brand name Mirapex, developed by Pharmacia & Upjohn and Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc.

"Pramipexole dihydrochloride is the first of the next generation of an established class of anti-Parkinson's drugs to be launched," says the study's medical director, Karl Kieburtz, Rochester's associate professor of neurology. "It appears to be more powerful and to be better tolerated by patients than other such drugs."

About one million adults in North America are afflicted by Parkinson's disease, in which several hundred thousand cells in a tiny region of the brain die for unknown reasons. Parkinson's, which afflicts adults ranging from ages 40 to 80, results in uncontrollable tremors and shaky, stiff, and slow movements. Current drugs reduce the symptoms, but their effects wane with time.

At the study's outset, 264 patients with symptoms of early Parkinson's disease who were not being treated with levodopa were randomly divided into five treatment groups. Members of one group received a placebo, while those in the other four groups received daily doses of pramipexole dihydrochloride. Physicians measured a patient's condition by monitoring the patient's mood, motor skills, and ability to perform everyday tasks. Over the 10-week study, patients receiving pramipexole dihydrochloride improved an average of 20 percent compared to patients taking a placebo. "Patients with worse symptoms saw even bigger gains, suggesting that the drug may be useful in treating mild to moderate cases of Parkinson's disease," Kieburtz says.

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