WHERE ARE WE NOW?
PARKINSON’S DISEASE 200
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
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-
The Fox Focus