A drug just like Ozempic slowed Parkinson's illness in a small research

The coronal view of a human brain from a patient suffering from Parkinson's disease

Sherbrooke Connectivity Imaging Lab | Getty Images

An extremely popular class of drugs for diabetes and obesity is showing early potential to also help patients with Parkinson's disease.

An older diabetes treatment called lixisenatide helped slow the progression of motor disability after 12 months in patients with early stages of the disease, according to results of a small, mid-stage trial published Wednesday. The drug, manufactured by Sanofiis a GLP-1-like Novo NordiskOzempic, the blockbuster diabetes injection, and Wegovy, the weight loss counterpart.

Motor disability refers to symptoms such as tremors, stiffness and slowness of movement, which can make it difficult for patients to walk, speak and swallow. Researchers from France said larger and longer studies are needed to fully determine the effectiveness and safety of the Sanofi treatment in patients with the degenerative brain disease, including how long the benefits might last.

Still, the findings, published late Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, represent an encouraging step forward in the decades-long effort to combat Parkinson's disease. Up to half a million Americans have been diagnosed with the condition, which is caused by damage to nerve cells in the brain is marked.

The findings also add to the long list of potential health benefits of GLP-1, demand for which has skyrocketed in the last year as it helps patients lose weight and regulate their blood sugar. However, further research is needed to determine whether newer iterations of GLP-1 from Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly can also help Parkinson's patients.

Both drugmakers are studying their respective treatments for weight loss and diabetes in patients with conditions such as sleep apnea and fatty liver disease, but neither is studying their drugs to treat Parkinson's disease.

Sanofi withdrew lixisenatide from the market in early 2023. The French drugmaker said stopping treatment was a business decision that had nothing to do with the safety and effectiveness of the drug.

Sanofi provided researchers with the drug and advised them on the drug's properties, but was otherwise not involved in the new phase 2 trial. It was funded by the French Ministry of Health and Prevention, a British charity called Cure Parkinson's and an independent biomedical research organization called the Van Andel Institute

In a statement to CNBC, Sanofi said it was “pleased by the positive results of this study.” The company added that it was open to “a discussion with the study’s researchers about providing support for their next phase of research.”

The study followed 156 people with early-stage Parkinson's disease for a year. All participants in the study took their usual Parkinson's medication. But one group also received a daily injection of Sanofi's drug, while the other received a placebo.

Patients receiving lixisenatide experienced essentially no progression of motor symptoms, whereas patients receiving placebo experienced worsening motor problems. The difference between the two groups was small, but remained two months after the end of the study and the patients discontinued therapy completely.

However, taking the Sanofi drug was associated with an increased risk of gastrointestinal side effects, which occur in all GLP-1 patients. Almost half of the patients who took the drug in the study experienced nausea, while 13% reported vomiting.

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