Drug similar to Ozempic slowed Parkinson’s disease in small trial

Coronal view of the human brain of a patient with Parkinson’s disease

Sherbrooke Connectivity Imaging Laboratory | Getty Images

A popular class of drugs for diabetes and obesity also shows early potential to 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 earlier stages of the disease, according to the results of a small mid-stage trial published Wednesday. The medicine, manufactured by Sanofiis a GLP-1 type Novo NordiskDiabetes’ blockbuster injection Ozempic and its weight loss counterpart Wegovy.

Motor disability refers to symptoms such as tremor, stiffness and slowness of movements, which can make it difficult for patients to walk, speak and swallow. French researchers said larger, longer studies are needed to fully determine the effectiveness and safety of Sanofi’s treatment in patients with degenerative brain disease, including how long the benefits last.

Still, the results, published Wednesday evening in the New England Journal of Medicine, mark an encouraging step forward in decades-long efforts to fight Parkinson’s disease. Up to half a million Americans have been diagnosed with the disease, characterized by damage to nerve cells in the brain.

The findings also add to the long list of potential health benefits of GLP-1, demand for which has exploded over the past year to help patients lose weight and regulate blood sugar levels. But more research is needed to determine whether new iterations of Novo Nordisk’s GLP-1s and Elie Lilly can also help patients with Parkinson’s disease.

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 examining their drugs to manage Parkinson’s disease.

Sanofi removed lixisenatide from the market in early 2023. The French drugmaker said stopping the treatment was a business decision and not related to its safety and effectiveness.

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

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

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

Patients who received lixisenatide had virtually no progression of motor symptoms, while those who received the placebo had a worsening of their motor problems. The difference between the two groups was modest but persisted two months after the trial ended and patients stopped treatment completely.

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


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