Novartis Cancer Drug Shows Promise as Treatment for Parkinson's

  • Tasigna boosted production of dopamine in test patients
  • Patient reports unloading dishwasher, grilling steaks on drug

A Novartis AG drug used for treating leukemia may also work for patients with Parkinson’s disease, judging from one small and early clinical test.

An early stage trial conducted by the Georgetown University Medical Center found a small dose of the medicine, Tasigna, produced “meaningful clinical improvements” in 10 out of 11 patients, the university said in a statement on Saturday. Unlike standard clinical tests, this one didn’t include a control group for comparison.

The findings appear significant nonetheless, because there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease and participants in the study saw production of the brain chemical dopamine increase so much researchers had to advise them to reduce or stop taking other drugs. Parkinson’s, a degenerative condition causing tremor and motor impairment, is associated with dysfunctions in the dopamine system and affects an estimated 10 million people worldwide.

Alan Hoffmann, a retired social science professor diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1997 who took part in the trial, said he was able to “empty the garbage, unload the dishwasher, load the washer and the dryer, set the table, even take responsibility for grilling” after taking the Novartis drug. Previously, he did almost nothing around the house.

Some patients in the study had Lewy body dementia, the second most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer’s disease.

The study marks the first time a therapy appears to reverse the “cognitive and motor decline in patients with these neuro-degenerative disorders,” Fernando Pagan, a neurology professor who helped oversee the trial at Georgetown University Hospital, said in the statement. “But it is critical to conduct larger and more comprehensive studies before determining the drug’s true impact.”

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