VAI Voice

The official blog of Van Andel Institute
19 Mar 2021

New uses for existing medications provide hope for Parkinson’s disease breakthroughs

Drug repurposing program seeks to find treatments that slow or stop Parkinson’s progression and serve as a roadmap for similar initiatives in other diseases

Could a diabetes medication one day be used to treat Parkinson’s? What about an anti-cholesterol therapy? Or perhaps a drug developed to combat respiratory ailments?

These are the questions a collaborative team of Parkinson’s experts and advocates seek to answer through an initiative called International Linked Clinical Trials (iLCT). If they’re right, it could revolutionize treatment for millions around the world.

Since its establishment in 2012, iLCT has supported 22 clinical trials — seven completed, 15 underway — of medications designed to treat other diseases that also have promise in Parkinson’s. The program is spearheaded by Cure Parkinson’s (formerly The Cure Parkinson’s Trust) and Van Andel Institute, and brings together leading scientists, physicians and advocates around the world with a common goal — to find treatments that stop Parkinson’s in its tracks.

“iLCT has grown into the foremost drug repurposing initiative for Parkinson’s disease in the world. It is our hope that it will lead to life-changing breakthroughs in Parkinson’s treatment while also serving as an example for similar repurposing initiatives in other diseases, such as multiple system atrophy,” said Dr. Patrik Brundin, deputy chief scientific officer of Van Andel Institute and chair of the iLCT Scientific Committee.

Dr. Brundin, along with Dr. Richard Wyse and Dr. Simon Stott of Cure Parkinson’s, are the authors of a new article describing iLCT, its approach and its history. Read on to learn more about the program or check out the article here.

Why drug repurposing?

Developing a medication from scratch can take more than a decade and billions of dollars. Drug repurposing offers another, less resource-intensive avenue. Scientists can evaluate medications that already have been developed or approved for other diseases to determine if they also may impact the mechanisms that give rise to Parkinson’s. Because they’ve already gone through critical early studies to evaluate safety and effect, they can be moved into clinical trials in Parkinson’s relatively quickly.

You may be wondering how a diabetes drug could ever work in Parkinson’s. It’s a good question, and one that’s answered by taking a close look at both diseases. On the surface, Parkinson’s and diabetes appear quite different but in reality, they share many of the same underlying mechanisms, such as disruptions in how cells process and use energy. It’s these mechanisms that the medication affects in order to treat the disease.

“The International Linked Clinical Trials initiative, founded and proudly run by Cure Parkinson’s, represents a unique program specifically aimed to identify important new treatments that will make a tangible difference to the trajectory of neurodegeneration suffered by patients with Parkinson’s disease. Our recent article, published in the prestigious journal, Frontiers of Neuroscience, describes aspects of how we conduct this global program and some of its recent clinical developments,” said Dr. Richard Wyse, Director of Research and Development for Cure Parkinson’s

How does iLCT work?

Each year, scientists, physicians and advocates meet to decide which promising medications to prioritize for clinical trials. Importantly, iLCT involves people with Parkinson’s in its decision-making process, ensuring that the Parkinson’s community has representation.

By focusing on medications with the potential to actually impede Parkinson’s progression, iLCT hopes to find treatments that go beyond symptoms and actually prevent disease onset or halt its progression, giving people more years spent in better health.

Could iLCT lead to breakthroughs in other diseases?

Hopefully, yes! iLCT also may serve as an example for similar initiatives in other diseases lacking effective therapies, such as multiple system atrophy, a disorder in which systems throughout the body progressively shut down.

“There are few clinical trial programs anywhere in the world as exciting as the iLCT, and this new review article provides the template for it to be replicated in other medical conditions,” said Dr. Simon Stott, Deputy Director of Research for Cure Parkinson’s.

Learn more about iLCT here. Check out this story from Cure Parkinson’s about iLCT here.