Associate Feature: People can’t wait for better Parkinson’s treatments
Mark Coxe was 6 when researchers discovered that they could treat Parkinson’s symptoms with levodopa. Now 60, Mark takes levodopa-based medication 3 times a day, every day. Like most people with Parkinson’s, Mark depends on levodopa for everyday activities like walking, talking, dressing and eating.
Levodopa helps Mark’s brain to replace some of the dopamine that his brain cells no longer produce. It remains the gold standard of Parkinson’s treatment, more than 50 years after it was first used.
But levodopa can have fierce side effects such as uncontrolled movements, compulsive behaviour, anxiety and hallucinations. After taking it for a while, it can “wear off” between doses, leaving people suddenly unable to move.
Crucially, levodopa cannot slow, stop or reverse the progression of Parkinson’s. No medical or surgical treatment can do that yet.
Parkinson’s is the fastest growing neurological condition in the world. And Mark is one of over 12,000 people in Scotland who just can’t wait for better treatments.
The good news is that there’s a growing pipeline of new therapies, and Scotland’s universities and life sciences sector are making world-leading discoveries.
Sadly, Government support for research into neurological conditions like Parkinson’s remains limited compared with that for other life-changing diagnoses like cancer and heart conditions, even though neurological conditions make the 4th biggest contribution to Scotland’s burden of disease.
Parkinson’s UK is the largest European charitable funder of Parkinson’s research. We believe that new treatments are within our grasp - and we could do even more with Government support.
Over the last 5 years, we’ve used a unique and innovative model - the Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech - to speed up the process of drug discovery and development. Parkinson’s UK is leading a global collaboration with over 60 international partners.
Frustratingly, drug development takes years. And typical investors won’t put money into developing drugs that look difficult, or are unlikely to deliver a significant financial return. But because we’re driven by people with Parkinson’s, not profit, we’ll invest where others won’t.
Parkinson’s UK acts like an investor, providing seed funding and dedicated resources to manage each project. If a project stalls, we move the money into one that’s more promising.
So far, the Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech has supported 12 projects, including 5 clinical trials. We’re testing treatments for dementia, hallucinations, uncontrolled movements and psychosis, and one that could slow the progression of Parkinson’s.
People with Parkinson’s help us decide what we fund. They’re also working to design better Parkinson’s research studies, making it easier to participate, and identifying more meaningful measurements of success.
In Scotland, we have 4 local research interest groups that enable people with Parkinson’s and those closest to them to link with local researchers.
This kind of contact has already led to research breakthroughs. Take the incredible story of Joy Milne from Perth. She noticed that her husband Les had a distinctive smell, and that other people with Parkinson’s had it too. She asked Professor Tilo Kunath from Edinburgh University about it at a meeting, and he was inspired to find out more. Since then, scientists working with Joy have discovered compounds in skin swabs that are specific to people with Parkinson’s. In September, the University of Manchester reported that they were developing the first ever lab test for Parkinson’s, with results potentially available in a matter of minutes.
Parkinson’s UK is proud that people who know Parkinson’s best - people like Mark and Joy - are central to our research work. We know that new treatments can’t come soon enough for them, and the more than 10 million people with Parkinson’s worldwide.
Meet us to find out more: email firstname.lastname@example.org
Find out more about Parkinson’s UK research at parkinsons.org.uk/research
This article is sponsored by Parkinson's UK Scotland