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The Case to Realign Parkinson’s Disease Research

By STEVEN ZECOLA

If asked, the leaders of the research organizations working on Parkinson’s disease would say that they have made tremendous progress and are optimistic on finding a cure for the disease. 

In truth, this viewpoint understates the magnitude of the challenge and results in insufficient resources being devoted to PD. Given the size of the challenge versus the available resources, most research studies today don’t even include finding a cure for PD as part of their objective.

The time is ripe to get everybody on the same page when it comes to the objectives, resources, and timelines for PD research.

What We Know About Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a chronic, progressive movement disorder that affects the lives of almost one million Americans. Roughly 50,000 of the inflicted people die each year, often by injuries from falling.  The incidence of PD is expected to expand to 1.6 million in the U.S. by the year 2037.

The characteristic motor symptoms of PD are tremors, stiffness, slowed movement and impaired balance. Over time, people with PD also experience non-motor symptoms including changes in mood, problems with attention and memory, sleep disturbances, fatigue, and changes in bowel and bladder function.  PD has a considerable impact on the quality of life.

The cost to treat PD has been estimated to be $50 billion a year, split equally between the direct cost of care and the indirect costs of lost opportunities for the patients and caregivers.

PD is a complex disease which is thought to result from an interaction between genetic and environmental risk factors.  More than 20 genes have been identified as having an impact on the onset of PD.  However, genetic variation is estimated to contribute only about 25% to the overall risk of developing PD. Moreover, like the majority of neurodegenerative disorders, little insight is available on how specific sequence variations contribute to disease development and progression.

In short, the exact cause of PD is unknown.  However, we know that that there is more than one manifestation of the disease. We can also reasonably conclude that more than one single element or therapy will be required to cure the disease.

What We Know About Parkinson’s Disease Research

PD was first discovered and described by James Parkinson in 1817 in London, England.

In 1911, the efforts of Kazimierz Funk, a Polish biochemist, paid off with the identification of Levodopa as a potential treatment.

By 1970, the FDA approved the use of Levodopa combined with Carbidopa for the treatment of PD. Since then, this combination has remained the gold standard for treatment.

During the last 50 years, many attempts have been made to improve this treatment and avoid its long-term complications.  While several enhancements have been approved by the FDA and have helped patients, no treatment has cured or slowed the progression of the disease.

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21st Century Cures Act: Away From the “Valley of Death”

By STEVEN ZECOLA

Most people would agree that the number of cures for debilitating and costly illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and cancer have been too few and far between.

To address this issue, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the 21st Century Cures Act, which now resides in the U.S. Senate for action.  The main thrusts of the Act are to increase government funding for research and to improve several regulatory processes.

Unfortunately, the Act does not address the root cause of the dearth of cures; namely, the inhospitable investment climate for research and development (“R&D”) culminating in the “Valley of Death” for most health-related discoveries.

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