Trialling new treatments for Parkinson’s disease

A drug which has been used to treat liver disease for over 30 years is being trialled in patients with Parkinson’s Disease and will assess its potential to slow down disease progression for the first time.

Parkinson's disease: nerve cells - illustration

Parkinson’s Disease currently affects around 145,000 people in the UK. The progressive neurological condition severely impacts a patient’s quality of life with symptoms like problems with mobility, coordination or a tremor, but can also result in memory loss, low mood or abnormal bowel function.

The symptoms are mainly due to the loss of dopamine containing nerve cells in the area of the brain which controls movement. An important reason why these cells die in the brain of patients with Parkinson's is due to a malfunction of the cell’s batteries – known as mitochondria.

The ground-breaking study, led by researchers at the University of Sheffield in partnership with Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, is assessing the safety and tolerability of the liver drug ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) in Parkinson’s patients – a drug which is hoped could potentially be repositioned to help slow down the progression of the disease.

The trial is led by Oliver Bandmann, Professor of Movement Disorders Neurology at the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) and also an Honorary Consultant Neurologist at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Professor Bandmann and his team previously identified UDCA as the most promising drug to rescue mitochondrial function in Parkinson’s in a drug screen where 2,000 drugs were assessed.

“After nearly a decade of research we are extremely pleased to launch the first clinical trial of UDCA in Parkinson’s patients to see if the drug is safe and tolerated,” said Professor Bandmann.

“This is a pilot trial, which, if successful, will lead to a bigger study to firmly establish the effectiveness of the treatment to slow down the progression of Parkinson’s. Currently, Parkinson’s is relentlessly progressive but patients tend to respond very well to symptomatic medication in the early stages of the disease.

“A drug which will slow down the progression of the disease – even after the first few years of diagnosis – would help people to have an improved quality of life for longer.”

The trial, known as the UP Study (UDCA in Parkinson’s) is being conducted at two centres in the UK, Sheffield and London, in collaboration with Professor Tom Foltynie at University College London Hospitals. Working in collaboration with researchers from the University of Sheffield’s Institute for Insilico Medicine (Insigneo), the NIHR Sheffield Clinical Research Facility.

The clinical trial is supported by the JP Moulton Charitable Foundation, The Cure Parkinson’s Trust and the pharmaceutical company PRO.MED.CS.

Through its International Linked Clinical Trials Programme, The Cure Parkinson’s Trust has been working towards bringing UDCA into clinical trials - and this trial is the first step in understanding the drug’s potential to slow Parkinson’s progression. We are delighted to be supporting Professor Bandmann’s important work.

Helen Matthews

Deputy Chief Executive Officer of The Cure Parkinson’s Trust

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