The Acorda’s Tozadenant Phase III clinical trials

The biotech company Acorda Therapeutics Inc. yesterday announced that it was halting new recruitment for the phase III program of its drug Tozadenant (an oral adenosine A2a receptor antagonist).

In addition, participants currently enrolled in the trial will now have their blood monitoring conducted on a weekly basis. 

The initial report looks really bad (tragically five people have died), but does this tragic news mean that the drug should be disregarded?

In todays post, we will look at what adenosine A2a receptor antagonists are, how they may help with Parkinson’s, and discuss what has happened with this particular trial.


Dr Ron Cohen, CEO of Acorda. Source: EndpointNews

Founded in 1995, Acorda Therapeutics Ltd is a biotechnology company that is focused on developing therapies that restore function and improve the lives of people with neurological disorders, particularly Parkinson’s disease.

Earlier this year, they had positive results in their phase III clinical trial of Inbrija (formerly known as CVT-301 – Click here to read a previous post about this). They have subsequently filed a New Drug Application with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make this inhalable form of L-dopa available in the clinic, but the application has been delayed due to manufacturing concerns from the FDA (Click here to read more about this). These issues should be solvable – the company and the FDA are working together on these matters – and the product will hopefully be available in the new year.

So what was the news yesterday?

Acorda Therapeutics has another experimental product going through the clinical trial process for Parkinson’s disease.

It’s called Tozadenant.

Source: Focusbio

Tozadenant is an oral adenosine A2a receptor antagonist (and yes, we’ll discuss what all that means in a moment).

Yesterday Acorda Therapeutics Inc announced that they have halted new recruitment for their phase III clinical program. In addition the company is increasing the frequency of blood cell count monitoring (from monthly to weekly) for participants already enrolled in the company’s Phase 3 program of Tozadenant for Parkinson’s disease.

The Company took this action due to reports of cases of agranulocytosis.

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Editorial: Orphan drug tax credit

Here at the SoPD we are politically neutral.

That said, I will report on events that directly impact the world of Parkinson’s disease research (without adding too much in the way of personal opinions). 

Recent legislation introduced in the US congress could have major implications for subsets of the Parkinson’s disease community, as well as a host of additional medical conditions. The legislation is seeking to remove the orphan drug tax credit.

In today’s post, we will have a look at what the orphan drug tax credit is, and why its removal could be damaging for Parkinson’s.


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The United States Capitol. Source: SpotHeroBlog

On November 2, House Republican lawmakers introduced a bill to reform the U.S. tax code. The complicated tax system probably needs a serious clean up, but the legislation will also terminate something called the orphan drug tax credit.

What is the orphan drug tax credit?

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James: The man behind the disease (Part 3)

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This post is the third in our four part series on the life of Mr James Parkinson, in observance of 200 years since his first description of Parkinson’s disease.

Here we will look at the bulk of James’ adult life – not only his medical related activities, but also all of the ‘other stuff’ (for which he is not remembered). This is not intended to be an exhaustive history of his life, I am simply trying to share a brief overview of what one amazing man achieved with his life.

In addition, I will include some of the global events that were occurring during this time to provide a bit of context not only to the epoch that James lived in, but as to how those events helped to shape who he was.


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The return of Benjamin Franklin to Philadelphia in 1785. Source: Wikimedia

At the end of our first post about James Parkinson, it was 1785 and the recently married James was the sole medical practitioner at “Parkinson and Son”. His first son,  John William Keys Parkinson, was born that year (11th July – for more on James’ family, please click here). AND Perhaps given the weight of these responsibilities, combined with his disappointment regarding his medical training thus far, James sought out further education.

He found it in the form of evening lectures provided by the great Scottish surgeon, John Hunter. Between October 1785 and April 1786, James attended these session and we should all be very grateful that he did.

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John Hunter. Source: Wikipedia

These lectures were conducted in Hunter’s operating theatre in Castle Street, Leicester Square. They were approximately one hour in length, held three times per week and in all there were 68 of them.

And we are very fortunate today that James attended these lectures as we only know of their content because James wrote them down verbatim in shorthand (his notes were later published by his son John William Keys Parkinson – “Hunterian Reminiscences, Being The Substance Of A Course Of Lectures On The Principles And Practice Of Surgery Delivered By John Hunter In The Year 1785″). These notes were invaluable given that Hunter’s own notes were later destroyed by fire.

It was during these lectures that James was introduced to John Hunter’s collection of fossils and another of the great interest of James’ life began. While most people who know of James Parkinson associate him with the field of medicine, his contributions to the fields of geology and paleontology during his life time were far greater than those to medicine.

And truth be known, James is still something of a rockstar to geologists and paleontologists (no pun intended).

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The LRRK Ascending

Genetic mutations (or ‘variants’) in the Leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (or LRRK2; also known as Dardarin) gene are associated with increased risk of Parkinson’s. As a result this gene has become the focus of a lot of genetic research.

But what about LRRK2’s less well-known, rather neglected sibling LRRK1?

In today’s post, we will look at new research that suggests the LRRK siblings could both be involved with Parkinson’s disease. 


I recommend to the reader that today’s post should be read with the following music playing in the background:

Inspired by a poem of the same title, English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote ‘The Lark Ascending’ in 1914. It is still to this day, a tune that remains a firm favourite with BBC listeners here in the UK (Source).

On to business:

While the music and the poem are about a songbird, today’s SoPD post deals with a different kind of Lark.

Or should I say LRRK.

This is Sergey Brin.

sergey_brin

Nice guy.

He was one of the founders of a small company you may have heard of – it’s called “Google”.

Having changed the way the world searches the internet, he is now turning his attention to other projects.

One of those other projects is close to our hearts: Parkinson’s disease.

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CRISPR-Cas9: “New CRISPY Parkinson’s research”

Recently a Parkinson’s-associated research report was published that was the first of many to come.

It involves the use of a genetic screening experiment that incorporates new technology called ‘CRISPR’.

There is an absolute tidal wave of CRISPR-related Parkinson’s disease research coming down the pipe towards us, and it is important that the Parkinson’s community understands how this powerful technology works.

In today’s post we will look at what the CRISPR technology is, how it works, what the new research report actually reported, and discuss how this technology can be used to tackle a condition like Parkinson’s.


Me and my mother (and yes, the image is to scale). Source: Openclipart

My mother: Simon, what is all this new ‘crispy’ research for Parkinson’s I heard about on the news?

Me: Huh? (I was not really paying attention to the question. Terrible to ignore one’s mother I know, but what can I say – I am the black sheep of the family)

My mother: Yes, something about ‘crispy’ and Parkinson’s.

Me: Oh! You mean CRISPR. Yeah, it’s really cool stuff.

My mother: Ok, well, can you explain it all to me please, this ‘Crisper’ stuff?

Me: Absolutely.

CRISPR.101 (or CRISPR for beginners)

In almost every cell of your body, there is a nucleus.

It is the command centre for the cell – issuing orders and receiving information concerning everything going on inside and around the cell. The nucleus is also a storage bank for the genetic blueprint that provides most of the instructions for making a physical copy of you. Those grand plans are kept bundled up in 23 pairs of chromosomes, which are densely coiled strings of a molecule called Deoxyribonucleic acid (or DNA).

DNA’s place inside the cell. Source: Kids.Britannica

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Clinical trials: The Power of One

As the age of personalised medicine approaches, innovative researchers are rethinking the way we conduct clinical studies. “Rethinking” in radical ways – think: individualised clinical trials! 

One obvious question is: Can you really conduct a clinical trial involving just one participant?

In this post, we will look at some of the ideas and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses these approaches.


A Nobel prize medal. Source: Motley

In the annals of Nobel prize history, there are a couple winners that stands out for their shear….um, well,…audacity.

One example in particular, was the award given to physician Dr Werner Forssmann. In 1956, Andre Cournand, Dickinson Richards and Forssmann were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for their discoveries concerning heart catheterisation and pathological changes in the circulatory system”. Forssmann was responsible for the first part (heart catheterisation).

Source: Nobelprize

In 1929, at the age of 25, Forssmann performed the first human cardiac catheterisation – that is a procedure that involves inserting a thin, flexible tube directly into the heart via an artery (usually in the arm, leg or neck). It is a very common procedure performed on a daily basis in any hospital today. But in 1929, it was revolutionary. And the audacious aspect of this feat was that Forssmann performed the procedure on himself!

And if you think that is too crazy to be true, please read on.

But be warned: this particular story gets really bonkers.

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“Three hellos” for Parkinson’s

Trehalose is a small molecule – nutritionally equivalent to glucose – that helps to prevent protein from aggregating (that is, clustering together in a bad way).

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition that is characterised by protein aggregating, or clustering together in a bad way.

Is anyone else thinking what I’m thinking?

In today’s post we will look at what trelahose is, review some of the research has been done in the context of Parkinson’s disease, and discuss how we should be thinking about assessing this molecule clinically.


Neuropathologists examining a section of brain tissue. Source: Imperial

When a neuropathologist makes an examination of the brain of a person who passed away with Parkinson’s, there are two characteristic hallmarks that they will be looking for in order to provide a definitively postmortem diagnosis of the condition:

1.  The loss of dopamine producing neurons in a region of the brain called the substantia nigra.

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The dark pigmented dopamine neurons in the substantia nigra are reduced in the Parkinson’s disease brain (right). Source:Memorangapp

2.  The clustering (or ‘aggregation’) of a protein called alpha synuclein. Specifically, they will be looking for dense circular aggregates of the protein within cells, which are referred to as Lewy bodies.

A Lewy body inside of a neuron. Source: Neuropathology-web

Alpha-synuclein is actually a very common protein in the brain – it makes up about 1% of the material in neurons (and understand that there are thousands of different proteins in a cell, thus 1% is a huge portion). For some reason, however, in Parkinson’s disease this protein starts to aggregate and ultimately forms into Lewy bodies:

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A cartoon of a neuron, with the Lewy body indicated within the cell body. Source: Alzheimer’s news

In addition to Lewy bodies, the neuropathologist may also see alpha synuclein clustering in other parts of affected cells. For example, aggregated alpha synuclein can be seen in the branches of cells (these clusterings are called ‘Lewy neurites‘ – see the image below where alpha synuclein has been stained brown on a section of brain from a person with Parkinson’s disease.

Lewy_neurites_alpha_synuclein

Examples of Lewy neurites (indicated by arrows). Source: Wikimedia

Given these two distinctive features of the Parkinsonian brain (the loss of dopamine neurons and the aggregation of alpha synuclein), a great deal of research has focused on A.) neuroprotective agents to protect the remaining dopamine-producing neurons in the substantia nigra, and B.) compounds that stop the aggregation of alpha synuclein.

In today’s post, we will look at the research that has been conducted on one particular compounds that appears to stop the aggregation of alpha synuclein.

It is call Trehalose (pronounces ‘tray-hellos’).

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Are we getting NURR to the end of Parkinson’s disease?

Nuclear receptor related 1 protein (or NURR1) is a protein that is critical to the development and survival of dopamine neurons – the cells in the brain that are affected in Parkinson’s disease.

Given the importance of this protein for the survival of these cells, a lot of research has been conducted on finding activators of NURR1.

In today’s post we will look at this research, discuss the results, and consider issues with regards to using these activators in Parkinson’s disease.


Comet Hale–Bopp. Source: Physics.smu.edu

Back in 1997, 10 days after Comet Hale–Bopp passed perihelion (April 1, 1997 – no joke; perihelion being the the point in the orbit of a comet when it is nearest to the sun) and just two days before golfer Tiger Woods won his first Masters Tournament, some researchers in Stockholm (Sweden) published the results of a study that would have a major impact on our understanding of how to keep dopamine neurons alive.

Dopamine neurons are one group of cells in the brain that are severely affected by Parkinson’s disease. By the time a person begins to exhibit the movement symptoms of the condition, they will have lost 40-60% of the dopamine neurons in a region called the substantia nigra. In the image below, there are two sections of brain – cut on a horizontal plane through the midbrain at the level of the substantia nigra – one displaying a normal compliment of dopamine neurons and the other from a person who passed away with Parkinson’s demonstrating a reduction in this cell population.

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The dark pigmented dopamine neurons in the substantia nigra are reduced in the Parkinson’s disease brain (right). Source:Memorangapp

The researchers in Sweden had made an amazing discovery – they had identified a single gene that was critical to the survival of dopamine neurons. When they artificially mutated the section of DNA where this gene lives – an action which resulted in no protein for this gene being produced – they generated genetically engineered mice with no dopamine neurons:

Title: Dopamine neuron agenesis in Nurr1-deficient mice
Authors: Zetterström RH, Solomin L, Jansson L, Hoffer BJ, Olson L, Perlmann T.
Journal: Science. 1997 Apr 11;276(5310):248-50.
PMID: 9092472

The researchers who conducted this study found that the mice with no NURR1 protein exhibited very little movement and did not survive long after birth. And this result was very quickly replicated by other research groups (Click here and here to see examples)

So what was this amazing gene called?

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Resveratrol’s neglected siblings

 

We have previously discussed the powerful antioxidant Resveratrol, and reviewed the research suggesting that it could be beneficial in the context of Parkinson’s disease (Click here to read that post).

I have subsequently been asked by several readers to provide a critique of the Parkinson’s-associated research focused on Resveratrol’s twin sister, Pterostilbene (pronounced ‘Terra-still-bean’).

But quite frankly, I can’t.

Why? Because there is NO peer-reviewed scientific research on Pterostilbene in models of Parkinson’s disease.

In today’s post we will look at what Pterostilbene is, what is known about it, and why we should seriously consider doing some research on this compound (and its cousin Piceatannol) in the context of Parkinson’s disease.


Blue berries are the best natural source of Pterostilbene. Source: Pennington

So this is likely to be the shortest post in SoPD history.

Why?

Because there is nothing to talk about.

There is simply no Parkinson’s-related research on the topic of today’s post: Pterostilbene. And that is actually a crying shame, because it is a very interesting compound.

What is Pterostilbene?

Like Resveratrol, Pterostilbene is a stilbenoid.

Stilbenoids are a large class of compounds that share the basic chemical structure of C6-C2-C6:

Resveratrol is a good example of a stilbenoid. Source: Wikipedia

Stilbenoids are phytoalexins (think: plant antibiotics) produced naturally by numerous plants. They are small compounds that become active when the plant is under attack by pathogens, such as bacteria or fungi. Thus, their function is generally considered to part of an anti-microbial/anti-bacterial plant defence system for plants.

The most well-known stilbenoid is resveratrol which grabbed the attention of the research community in a 1997 study when it was found to inhibit tumour growth in particular animal models of cancer:

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Trying to ‘beet’ Parkinson’s in the developing world

Recently I discussed my ‘Plan B’ idea, which involves providing a cheap alternative to expensive drugs for folks living in the developing world with Parkinson’s (Click here for that post).

While doing some research for that particular post, I came across another really interesting bit of science that is being funded by Parkinson’s UK.

It involves Beetroot.

In today’s post we will look at how scientists are attempting turn this red root vegetable into a white root vegetable in an effort to solve Parkinson’s in the developing world.


Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius. Source: NationalGeo

During visits to the ancient Roman city of Pompeii (in Italy), tourists are often drawn by their innocent curiosity to the ‘red light’ district of the city. And while they are there, they are usually amused by the ‘descriptive’ murals that still line the walls of the buildings in that quarter.

So amused in fact that they often miss the beetroots.

Huh? Beetroots?

Yes, beetroots.

I’m not suggesting that anyone spends a great deal of time making a close inspection of the walls, but if you look very carefully, you will often see renditions of beetroots.

They are everywhere. For example:

Two beetroots hanging from the ceiling.

Again: Huh?

The Romans considered beetroot to be quite the aphrodisiac, believing that the juice ‘promoted amorous feelings’. They also ate the red roots for medicinal purposes, consuming it as a laxative or to cure fever.

And this medicinal angle lets me segway nicely into the actual topic of today’s post. You see, in the modern era researcher are hoping to use beetroot for medicinal purposes again. But this time, the beetroot will be used to solve an issue close to my heart: treating people with Parkinson’s in the developing world.

Using beetroot to treat Parkinson’s?

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