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Science News in Brief

RASAGILINE APPROVAL EXPECTED LATER THIS YEAR

Generic drug giant Teva Pharmaceuticals has announced the successful completion of two Phase III trials of Rasagiline in patients with advanced Parkinson’s disease (PD). This MAO-B inhibitor - similar to the well-known Eldepryl, but stronger - has the added advantage that it doesn’t metabolize into methamphetamine and thus shouldn’t cause sleep problems. Each study, which compared single daily dosages of Rasagiline to a placebo as an added treatment to Levodopa, demonstrated significant reductions in the duration of the “off” time in which patients are unable to function normally.

Rasagiline is now expected to be submitted for regulatory approval in North America and Europe in the second half of 2003.

DRUGS PRESCRIBED BUT NOT TAKEN

A new survey of how well PD patients stick to their meds regime reveals that only about one in 10 follow to the letter the schedule of drugs and dosages as prescribed by their neurologists.

For the month long study, the conclusions of which were reported last Fall at a meeting of the Movement Disorders Society meeting in Miami, the group used a questionnaire and a computerized monitoring system. Patients with depression or dementia, and those who were permitted to take their medications “as needed” were excluded from the study.

The authors, led by Dr. N.A. Leopold (Upland, PA), concluded that only four of the 39 participants followed the regime perfectly. Among the explanations for non-compliance offered by the patients were: “I was too busy,” “I forgot,” “I left home without drugs,” “I ran out of pills,” “I misunderstood the doctor’s directions,” and “the schedule is too complicated.”

One way to improve this alarming rate of non-compliance, according to the authors, would be to encourage patients and caregivers “to keep a daily diary over a period of a month, and then to discuss the derived data with their neurologists.”

NEW DRUG SHOW EARLY PROMISE

A small experimental study of a hormone that promotes the growth of brain cells has produced encouraging results, doctors in the U.S. and the U.K. have reported. In the study, of five patients in the advanced stages of PD, the hormone, glial cell-line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), was delivered in tiny amounts continuously using a pump.

After a year of treatment, all five patients in the study improved by almost 40 percent, eliminating periods of immobility experienced before the treatment. It reduced or stopped the involuntary movements common to the disease and improved senses for three patients who had lost the ability to taste or smell.

GDNF has been shown in research on mice and primates to nourish the brain cells that wither during PD.

While the report has been greeted with considerable interest and enthusiasm among scientists, many have cautioned against reading too much into so small a study. Clearly, more research needs to be done, in animals as well as humans.