A new drug to combat Parkinson's disease is surprisingly effective and may cause 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 first large-scale study of the drug's effects on patients in the early stages of Parkinson's disease.
The drug was approved last week by the Food and Drug Administration and will be available in pharmacies around the nation beginning next week under the brand name Mirapex, developed by Pharmacia & Upjohn and Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc.
The study of pramipexole dihydrochloride's effects on patients at 20 hospitals around the nation, led by researchers at the University of Rochester, is published in the July 9 Journal of the American Medical Association.
"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, M.D., associate professor of neurology at Rochester's School of Medicine and Dentistry. "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. This pea-sized part of the brain produces dopamine, a neurotransmitter that's key to the control of movement. Parkinson's, which afflicts adults ranging from ages 40 to 80, results in uncontrollable tremors and shaky, stiff, and slow movements. The condition of patients slowly declines over a period of years or even decades, with the hardest-hit unable even to stand or walk. Current drugs reduce the symptoms, but their effects wane with time.