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AstraZeneca diabetes drug shows potential as Parkinson's treatment in study

A diabetes drug sold by AstraZeneca PLC may possess properties to change the course of Parkinson's disease and not just alleviate the symptoms, according to a study led by University College London and funded by The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.

The drug, exenatide, activates receptors for the GLP-1 hormone in the pancreas to stimulate insulin release. GLP-1 receptors are also found in the brain, and previous studies have shown the drug may lead to improvements in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

The study included 60 Parkinson's disease patients at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery who took either exenatide or a placebo. The researchers found that patients using exenatide showed better motor function at the end of the tests. The improvements in tremors, agility and speech, as measured by a 132-point scale, were statistically significant.

"This is the strongest evidence we have so far that a drug could do more than provide symptom relief for Parkinson's disease," Tom Foltynie, senior author for the study at UCL Institute of Neurology, said in a statement.

The participants in the trial were temporarily kept off standard medication. According to the researchers, the patients did not report noticeable improvements in their symptoms during the trial period beyond what their standard medication already did. The study did not prove that the drug modified the disease, and more research will need to be done to determine that, along with the medicine's safety in Parkinson's patients.

The study was conducted at UCL and the NHNN in collaboration with The Cure Parkinson's Trust and researchers from the National Institute on Aging, and was supported by the National Institute for Health Research University College London Hospitals Biomedical Research Centre. The research was published in The Lancet medical journal.

AstraZeneca sells the drug under the brand names Byetta and Bydureon. The British drugmaker recently settled a patent dispute regarding exenatide with Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.