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Drug Similar to Ozempic Slowed Parkinson’s Disease in Small Trial

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

Sherbrooke Connectivity Imaging Lab | Getty Images

A highly popular class of drugs for diabetes and obesity is showing early potential to help patients with Parkinson’s disease, too. 

An older diabetes treatment called lixisenatide helped slow the progression of motor disability after 12 months in patients at an early stage of the condition, according to results from a small mid-stage trial published Wednesday. The drug, made by Sanofi, is a GLP-1 like Novo Nordisk‘s blockbuster diabetes injection Ozempic and weight loss counterpart Wegovy. 

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

Still, the results, published late Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine mark an encouraging step forward in the decades-long effort to tackle Parkinson’s disease. As many as half a million Americans have been diagnosed with the condition, which is characterized by nerve cell damage in the brain. 

The results also add to the long list of potential health benefits of GLP-1s, which have skyrocketed in demand over the last year for helping patients shed pounds and regulate their blood sugar. But more research is needed to determine whether newer iterations of GLP-1s from Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly may also help Parkinson’s patients. 

Both drugmakers are studying their respective weight loss and diabetes treatments in patients with conditions such as sleep apnea and fatty liver disease, but neither are examining their drugs in managing Parkinson’s disease. 

Sanofi pulled lixisenatide from the market at the beginning of 2023. The French drugmaker has said the discontinuation of the treatment was a business decision and not related to its safety and efficacy. 

Sanofi provided the drug to the researchers and advised them on the characteristics of the medication, but otherwise was not involved in the new phase two trial. The trial was funded by the French Ministry of Health and Prevention and a U.K. charity called Cure Parkinson’s. 

In a statement to CNBC, Sanofi said it was “pleased to see the positive outcomes of this study.” The company added that it is open to “a discussion with the investigators of the study on providing support for their next phase of research.”

The trial followed 156 people with early Parkinson’s disease for a year. All participants took their usual Parkinson’s medication in the study. But one group was given an additional daily injection of Sanofi’s drug, while the other was given a placebo.

Patients who received lixisenatide showed essentially no progression of motor symptoms, while those given the placebo showed worsening motor problems. The difference between the two groups was modest but remained two months after the trial stopped and patients went completely off therapy. 

But use of Sanofi’s drug was associated with an increased risk of gastrointestinal side effects, which are common across all GLP-1s. Nearly half of patients who took the drug in the trial experienced nausea, while 13% reported vomiting. 

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