In October 2015, researchers from Georgetown University announced the results of a small clinical trial that got the Parkinson’s community very excited. The study involved a cancer drug called Nilotinib, and the results were rather spectacular.
What happened next, however, was a bizarre sequence of disagreements over exactly what should happen next and who should be taking the drug forward. This caused delays to subsequent clinical trials and confusion for the entire Parkinson’s community who were so keenly awaiting fresh news about the drug.
Earlier this year, Georgetown University announced their own follow up phase II clinical trial and this week a second phase II clinical trial funded by a group led by the Michael J Fox foundation was initiated.
In todays post we will look at what Nilotinib is, how it apparently works for Parkinson’s disease, what is planned with the new trial, and how it differs from the ongoing Georgetown Phase II trial.
The FDA. Source: Vaporb2b
This week the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given approval for a multi-centre, double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled Phase IIa clinical trial to be conducted, testing the safety and tolerability of Nilotinib (Tasigna) in Parkinson’s disease.
This is exciting and welcomed news.
What is Nilotinib?
Nilotinib (pronounced ‘nil-ot-in-ib’ and also known by its brand name Tasigna) is a small-molecule tyrosine kinase inhibitor, that has been approved for the treatment of imatinib-resistant chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML).
What does any that mean?
Basically, it is the drug that is used to treat a type of blood cancer (leukemia) when the other drugs have failed. It was approved for treating this cancer by the FDA in 2007.
This week pre-clinical data was published demonstrating that the Ambroxol is active in the brain.
This is important data given that there is currently a clinical trial being conducted for Ambroxol in Parkinson’s disease.
Today’s post will review the new data and discuss what is happening regarding the clinical trial.
Ambroxol. Source: Skinflint
We have previously discussed the potential use of Ambroxol in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease (Click here to read that post). Today we follow up that post with new data that provides further support for an on-going clinical trial.
Firstly, what is Ambroxol?
Ambroxol is a commonly used treatment for respiratory diseases (the respiratory system being the lungs and related components required for breathing). Ambroxol promotes the clearance of mucus and eases coughing. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, reducing redness in a sore throat. It is the active ingredient of products like Mucosolvan, Mucobrox, and Mucol.
What is the connection between Ambroxol and Parkinson’s disease?
So this is where a gene called GBA comes into the picture.
Genetic mutations in the GBA (full name: Glucosylceramidase Beta) gene are the most common genetic anomaly associated with Parkinson’s disease. People with a mutation in their GBA gene have a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease than the general population. And interestingly, people with Parkinson’s disease are approximately five times more likely to carry a GBA mutation than healthy control subjects.
What does GBA do?
The GBA gene provides the instructions for making an enzyme (called glucocerebrosidase) that helps with the digestion and recycling of waste inside cells. The enzyme is located and active inside ‘lysosomes‘.
What are Lysosomes?
Lysosomes are small bags of digestive enzymes that can be found inside cells. They help to break down proteins that have either been brought into the cell or that have served their function and need to be digested and disposed of (or recycled).
How lysosomes work. Source: Prezi
Inside the lysosomes are enzymes like glucocerebrosidase which help to break material down into useful parts. The lysosome will fuse with other small bags (called vacuole) that act as storage vessels of material inside a cell. The enzymes from the lysosome will mix with the material in the vacuole and digest it (or it break down into more manageable components).
Now people with a genetic mutation in their GBA gene will often have an abnormally short, non-functioning version of the glucocerebrosidase enzyme. In those cases the breaking down of waste inside the lysosome becomes inhibited. And if waste can’t be disposed of or recycled properly, things start to go wrong in the cell.
How does Ambroxol correct this?
It was recently shown that Ambroxol triggers exocytosis of lysosomes (Source). Exocytosis is the process by which waste is exported out of the cell.
Exocytosis. Source: Socratic
Thus by encouraging lysosomes to undergo exocytosis and spit their contents out of the cell – digested or not – Ambroxol allows the cell to remove waste effectively and therefore function in a more normal fashion. This mechanism of treatment seemingly bi-passes the faulty glucocerebrosidase digestion enzyme entirely.
Until recently, two important questions, however, have remained unanswered:
- Does Ambroxol enter the brain and have this function there?
- What are the consequences of long term Ambroxol use?
We now have an answer for question no. 1:
Title: Ambroxol effects in glucocerebrosidase and α-synuclein transgenic mice.
Authors: Migdalska-Richards A, Daly L, Bezard E, Schapira AH.
Journal: Ann Neurol. 2016 Nov;80(5):766-775.
PMID: 27859541 (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)
In this study, the researchers treated mice with Ambroxol for 12 days and then measured the level of glucocerebrosidase activity in the brain. They gave Ambroxol to three different groups of mice:
- a group of normal mice,
- a group of mice which had been genetically engineered with a specific mutation in their GBA gene (the heterozygous L444P mutation)
- a group of mice that produced human alpha synuclein (the protein closely associated with Parkinson’s disease).
When they looked at the level of glucocerebrosidase enzyme activity in normal mice, they found an increase of approximately 20% (in mice treated with 4mM Ambroxol). One curious finding was that this dose was the only dose that increase glucocerebrosidase activity (1, 3, and 5mM of Ambroxol had no effect). The investigators noted, however, a reduction in water drinking of mice receiving 5mM in their drinking water (maybe they didn’t like the taste of it!), suggesting that they were not getting as much Ambroxol as the 4mM group.
The 4mM level of of Ambroxol also increased glucocerebrosidase activity in the L444P mutation mice and the alpha-synuclein mice (which interestingly also has reduced levels of glucocerebrosidase activity). One important observation in the alpha synuclein mice was the finding that Ambroxol was able to reduce the levels of alpha synuclein in the cells, indicating better clearance of un-wanted excess of proteins.
These combined results suggested to the investigators that Ambroxol is entering the brain of mice (passing through the protective blood brain barrier) and able to be effective there. In addition, they did not witness any serious adverse effects of ambroxol administration in the mice – an observation made in other studies of Ambroxol in normal mice (Click here to read more about this).
These studies have been followed up by a dosing study in primates which was just published:
Title: Oral ambroxol increases brain glucocerebrosidase activity in a nonhuman primate.
Authors: Migdalska-Richards A, Ko WK, Li Q, Bezard E, Schapira AH.
Journal: Synapse. 2017 Mar 12. doi: 10.1002/syn.21967.
PMID: 28295625 (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)
In this study, the investigators analysed the effect of Ambroxol treatment on glucocerebrosidase activity in three healthy non-human primates. One subject was given an ineffective control solution vehicle, another subject received 22.5 mg/day of Ambroxol and the third subject received 100 mg/day of Ambroxol. They showed that daily administration 100 mg/day of Ambroxol results in increased levels of glucocerebrosidase activity in the brain (approximately 20% increase on average across different areas of the brain). Importantly, the 22.5 mg treatment did not result in any increase.
The investigators wanted to determine if the effect of Ambroxol was specific to glucocerebrosidase, and so they analysed the activity of another lysosome enzyme called beta-hexosaminidase (HEXB). They found that 100 mg/day of Ambroxol also increased HEXB activity (again by approximately 20%), suggesting that Ambroxol may be having an effect on other lysosome enzymes and not just glucocerebrosidase.
The researches concluded that these results provide the first data of the effect of Ambroxol treatment on glucocerebrosidase activity in the brain of non-human primates. In addition, the results indicate that Ambroxol is active and as the researchers wrote “should be further investigated in the context of clinical trials as a potential treatment for Parkinson’s disease”.
And there is a clinical trial currently underway?
Funded by the Cure Parkinson’s Trust and the Van Andel Research Institute (USA), there is currently a phase I clinical trial with 20 people with Parkinson’s disease receiving Ambroxol over 24 months. Importantly, the participants being enrolled in the study have both Parkinson’s disease and a mutation in their GBA gene. The study is being led by Professor Anthony Schapira at the Royal Free Hospital (London).
EDITORS NOTE HERE: Readers may be interested to know that Prof Schapira is also involved with another clinical trial for GBA-associated Parkinson’s disease. The work is being conducted in collaboration with the biotech company Sanofi Genzyme, and involves a phase II trial, called MOVE-PD, which is testing the efficacy, and safety of a drug called GZ/SAR402671 (Click here to read more about this clinical trial). GZ/SAR402671 is a glucosylceramide synthase inhibitor, which will hopefully reduce the production and consequent accumulation of glycosphingolipids in people with a mutation in the GBA gene. This approach is trying to reduce the amount of protein that can not be broken down by the faulty glucocerebrosidase enzyme. The MOVE-PD study will enroll more than 200 patients worldwide (Click here and here to read more on this).
The current Phase 1 trial at the Royal Free Hospital will be primarily testing the safety of Ambroxol in GBA-associated Parkinson’s disease. The researchers will, however, be looking to see if Ambroxol can increase levels of glucocerebrosidase and also assess whether this has any beneficial effects on the Parkinson’s features.
So what does it all mean?
There is a major effort from many of the Parkinson’s disease related charitable groups to clinically test available medications for their ability to slow this condition. Big drug companies are not interested in this ‘re-purposing effort’ as many of these drugs are no longer patent protected and thus providing limited profit opportunities for them. This is one of the unfortunate realities of the pharmaceutical industry business model.
One of the most interesting drugs being tested in this re-purposing effort is the respiratory disease-associated treatment, Ambroxol. Recently new research has been published that indicates Ambroxol is able to enter the brain and have an impact by increasing the level of protein disposal activity.
A clinical trial testing Ambroxol in Parkinson’s disease is underway and we will be watching for the results when they are released (most likely late 2019/early 2020, though preliminary results may be released earlier).
This trial is worth watching.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Under absolutely no circumstances should anyone reading this material consider it medical advice. The material provided here is for educational purposes only. Before considering or attempting any change in your treatment regime, PLEASE consult with your doctor or neurologist. Amboxol is a commercially available medication, but it is not without side effects (for more on this, see this website). We urge caution and professional consultation before altering a treatment regime. SoPD can not be held responsible for any actions taken based on the information provided here.
The banner for today’s post was sourced from Pharmacybook
Last week a research report was published in the prestigious journal Science Translational Medicine (that means that it’s potentially really important stuff). The study involved a new drug that is being clinically tested for diabetes.
In last week’s study, however, the new drug demonstrated very positive effects in Parkinson’s disease.
In today’s post we will review the new study and discuss what it means for Parkinson’s.
Diabetic checking blood sugar levels. Source: Gigaom
FACT: One in every 19 people on this planet have diabetes (Source: DiabetesUK).
It is expected to affect one person in every 10 by 2040.
Diabetes (or ‘Diabetes mellitus’) is basically a group of metabolic diseases that share a common feature: high blood sugar (glucose) levels for a prolonged period. There are three types of diabetes:
- Type 1, which involves the pancreas being unable to generate enough insulin. This is usually an early onset condition (during childhood) and is controlled with daily injections of insulin.
- Type 2, which begins with cells failing to respond to insulin. This is a late/adult onset version of diabetes that is caused by excess weight and lack of exercise.
- Type 3, occurs during 2-10% of all pregnancies, and is transient except in 5-10% of cases.
In all three cases inulin plays an important role.
What is insulin?
Insulin is a chemical (actually a hormone) that our body makes, which allows us to use sugar (‘glucose’) from the food that you eat.
Glucose is a great source of energy. After eating food, our body releases insulin which then attaches to cells and signals to those cells to absorb the sugar from our bloodstream. Without insulin, our cells have a hard time absorbing glucose. Think of insulin as a “key” which unlocks cells to allow sugar to enter the cell.
What does diabetes have to do with Parkinson’s disease?
So here’s the thing: 10–30% of people with Parkinson’s disease are glucose intolerant (some figures suggest the percentage may be as high as 50%).
We do not know.
Obviously, however, this ratio is well in excess of the 6% prevalence rate in the general public (Source:DiabetesUK). We have discussed the curious relationship between diabetes and Parkinson’s disease in a previous post (click here to read it).
And the relationship between Parkinson’s disease and diabetes is not a one way street: A recent analysis of 7 large population studies found that people with diabetes are almost 40% more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease that non-diabetic people (Click here for more on this).
EDITORIAL NOTE HERE: We would like to point out that just because a person may have diabetes, it does not necessarily mean that they will go on to develop Parkinson’s disease. There is simply a raised risk of developing the latter condition. It is good to be aware of these things, but please do not panic.
We have no idea why there is an association between diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, but each month new pieces of research are published that support the connection between Parkinson’s and diabetes, and this all provides encouraging support for an ongoing clinical trial (which we will discuss below).
So what research has been done?
Well, just this year alone there have been some interesting studies reported. The first piece of research deals with a drug that is used for treating type-2 diabetes:
Title: Metformin Prevents Nigrostriatal Dopamine Degeneration Independent of AMPK Activation in Dopamine Neurons.
Author: Bayliss JA, Lemus MB, Santos VV, Deo M, Davies JS, Kemp BE, Elsworth JD, Andrews ZB.
Journal: PLoS One. 2016 Jul 28;11(7):e0159381.
PMID: 27467571 (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)
Metformin (also known as Glucophage) has been one of the most frequently prescribed drugs for the treatment of type 2 diabetes since 1958 in the UK and 1995 in the USA. The mechanism by which Metformin works is not entirely clear, but it does appear to increase the body’s ability to recognise insulin.
Metformin treatment has previously been found to be neuroprotective. The researchers in this study wanted to determine if a protein called ‘AMPK’ was involved in that neuroprotective effect. They generated cells that do not contain AMPK and grew dopamine neurons – the brain cells badly affected by Parkinson’s disease.
In both cell cultures and in mice, the researchers found that Metformin was neuroprotective both in normal conditions and in the absence of AMPK. The study could not explain how the neuroprotective potential of Metformin was working, but it adds to the accumulating pile of evidence that some diabetes treatments may be having very positive effects in Parkinson’s disease.
A second piece of research from early this year goes even further:
Title: Reduced incidence of Parkinson’s disease after dipeptidyl peptidase-4 inhibitors-A nationwide case-control study.
Authors: Svenningsson P, Wirdefeldt K, Yin L, Fang F, Markaki I, Efendic S, Ludvigsson JF.
Journal: Movement Disorders 2016 Jul 19.
Using the Swedish Patient Register, the researchers of this study identified 980 people with Parkinson’s disease who were also diagnosed with type 2 diabetes between July 1, 2008, and December 31, 2010. For comparative sake, they selected 5 controls (non-Parkinsonian) with type 2 diabetes (n = 4,900) for each of their Parkinsonian+diabetic subjects. Their analysis found a significant decrease in the incidence of Parkinson’s disease among individuals with a history of DPP-4 inhibitor intake.
DPP-4 inhibitors work by blocking the action of DPP-4, which is an enzyme that destroys the hormone incretin. Incretin helps the body produce more insulin only when it is needed and reduce the amount of glucose being produced by the liver when it is not needed. By blocking DPP-4, we are increasing the production of insulin.
Authors concluded that ‘clinical trials with DPP-4 inhibitors may be worthwhile’ in people with Parkinson’s disease.
So what was published last week?
Metabolic Solutions Development is a Kalamazoo (Michigan)-based company that is developing a new drug (MSDC-0160) to treat type 2 diabetes. Last week, Prof Patrik Brundin and colleagues from the Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids published a research report that suggested MSDC-0160 may have very beneficial effects in Parkinson’s disease:
Title: Mitochondrial pyruvate carrier regulates autophagy, inflammation, and neurodegeneration in experimental models of Parkinson’s disease.
Authors: Ghosh A, Tyson T, George S, Hildebrandt EN, Steiner JA, Madaj Z, Schulz E, Machiela E, McDonald WG, Escobar Galvis ML, Kordower JH, Van Raamsdonk JM, Colca JR, Brundin P.
Journal: Sci Transl Med. 2016 Dec 7;8(368):368ra174.
The drug from Kalamazoo, MSDC-0160, functions by reducing the activity of a recently identified protein that carries pyruvate into mitochondria.
What does this mean?
Pyruvate is a very important molecule in our body. The body can make glucose from pyruvate through a process called gluconeogenesis, which simply means production of new glucose. Thus, pyruvate is essential in providing cells with fuel to create energy (for more on pyruvate, click here for a good review article).
Pyruvate is carried into the power house of the cell – the mitochondria – by a protein called mitochondrial pyruvate carrier (MPC). The drug from Kalamazoo, MSDC-0160, is a blocker of MOC. It reduces the activity of MPC.
MPC also has other functions. It is known to be a key controller of certain cellular processes that influences mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) activation. mTOR responds to signals to nutrients, growth factors, and cellular energy status and controls the cells response. For example, insulin can signal to mTOR the status of glucose levels in the body. mTOR also deals with infectious or cellular stress-causing agents, thus it could be involved in a cells response to conditions like Parkinson’s disease.
Things that activate mTOR. Source: Selfhacked
Given the interaction with mTOR, the researchers in Michigan hypothesised that MSDC-0160 might reduce the neurodegeneration of dopaminergic neurons in animal models of Parkinson’s disease.
And this is exactly what they found.
The researchers reported that MSDC-0160 protected dopamine neurons in a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease. It also protected human midbrain dopamine neurons grown in cell culture when they were exposed to a toxic chemical. In addition, it demonstrated neuroprotective effects in a worm (called Caenorhabditis elegans) that produces a lot of the parkinson’s related protein alpha synuclein. MSDC-0160 even slowed the cell loss observed in a genetically engineered mouse that exhibits a slow loss of dopamine neurons. Basically, treatment with MSDC-0160 protected the cells from whatever the researcher threw at them.
How did it do this?
The researchers found that MSDC-0160 was reducing mTOR activity and also initiating a process called autophagy (which is the garbage disposal system of the cell). By kick starting the rubbish removal system, the cells were healthier. In addition, treatment with MSDC-0160 resulted in less inflammation – or activation of the immune system – in the brain.
Sounds very interesting. When do clinical trials start?
We’re not sure. They will most likely be in the planning stages though. If MSDC-0160 is approved for diabetes, it will be easier to have it approved for Parkinson’s disease as well.
Other diabetes drugs, however, are currently being tested in clinical trials for Parkinson’s disease. Of particular interest is Exenatide, which is just finishing a placebo-controlled, double blind phase 2 clinical trial. We are expecting the results for that trial early next year. Previous clinical studies suggested very positive results for Exenatide:
Title: Exenatide and the treatment of patients with Parkinson’s disease.
Authors: Aviles-Olmos I, Dickson J, Kefalopoulou Z, Djamshidian A, Ell P, Soderlund T, Whitton P, Wyse R, Isaacs T, Lees A, Limousin P, Foltynie T.
Journal: J Clin Invest. 2013 Jun;123(6):2730-6.
PMID: 23728174 (This study is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)
The researchers running this clinical study gave Exenatide to a group of 21 patients with moderate Parkinson’s disease and evaluated their progress over a 14 month period (comparing them to 24 control subjects with Parkinson’s disease). Exenatide was well tolerated by the participants, although there was some weight loss reported amongst many of the subjects (one subject could not complete the study due to weight loss). Importantly, Exenatide-treated patients demonstrated improvements in their clinician assessed PD ratings, while the control patients continued to decline. Interestingly, in a two year follow up study – which was conducted 12 months after the patients stopped receiving Exenatide – the researchers found that patients previously exposed to Exenatide demonstrated a significant improvement (based on a blind assessment) in their motor features when compared to the control subjects involved in the study.
Exenatide. Source: Diatribe
The results of that initial clinical study were intriguing and exciting, but it is important to remember that the study was open-label: the subjects knew that they were receiving the drug. This means that we can not discount the placebo effect causing some of the beneficial effects reported.
And Exenatide is not the only diabetes drug being tested
Pioglitazone is another licensed diabetes drug that is now being tested in Parkinson’s disease. It reduces insulin resistance by increasing the sensitivity of cells to insulin. Pioglitazone has been shown to offer protection in animal models of Parkinson’s disease (click here and here for more on this). And the drug is currently being tested in a clinical trial.
So what does it all mean?
People with diabetes appear to be more vulnerable than the general population to developing Parkinson’s disease, and many people with Parkinson’s disease have glucose processing issues. It would be very interesting to better understand the link between Parkinson’s disease and diabetes. Why is it that so many people with Parkinson’s disease are glucose intolerant? And why do so many people with diabetes go on to develop Parkinson’s? Answering either of these questions might provide further insight into how both conditions function. And given that drugs associated with one appear to help with the other only strengthens the curious association.
As mentioned above, 2017 will bring the results of Exenatide clinical trial, upon which a lot of hope is riding. If it provides positive benefits, then we will finally have a treatment that can slow the progression of the disease. In addition, we will be able to delve more deeply into how Exenatide is causing it’s effect. Positive outcomes for Exenatide will also open the flood gates for many of the other clinically approved diabetes medications which could be trialled on people with Parkinson’s disease.
So despite how you may be feeling about 2017 (based on the events of 2016), we here at the SoPD believe that there is a lot to look forward to in the new year.
The banner for today’s post was sourced from Diabetes60systems