London—A common diabetes drug is showing promise in improving symptoms in Parkinson’s disease patients, according to a small study.

The study, published in The Lancet, found that exenatide had measurable effects on off-medication motor scores in Parkinson’s disease.

The study team, led by researchers from University College London and funded by The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF), said it remains unclear whether exenatide, a glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonist, affects the underlying disease pathophysiology or just has long-lasting symptomatic effects.

“This is a very promising finding, as the drug holds potential to affect the course of the disease itself, and not merely the symptoms,” said senior author Tom Foltynie. MD PhD, of the UCL Institute of Neurology. “With existing treatments, we can relieve most of the symptoms for some years, but the disease continues to worsen.”

For the study, researchers monitored 60 Parkinson’s disease patients at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN). They used either a once-weekly injection of exenatide for 48 weeks, or a placebo, in addition to their regular medications.

The patients who received exenatide exhibited better motor function at 48 weeks when they discontinued treatment, and the effect persisted after the 12-week follow-up, study authors report. On the other hand, the patients getting the placebo had declining motor scores at both 48 and 60 weeks. Study authors point out that the four-point advantage on a 132-point symptom scale reached statistical significance.

While participants did not report noticeable improvements in their symptoms during the trial period, beyond what their standard medications already provided, testing occurred when they were temporarily off medications so that disease progression could be determined.

“While we are optimistic about the results of our trial, there is more investigation to be done, and it will be a number of years before a new treatment could be approved and ready for use,” noted first author Dilan Athauda, PhD. “We also hope to learn why exenatide appears to work better for some patients than for others.”

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