Could a cough medicine help slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease?


Author: Sophie ParrottPublished: 26 January 2023

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A picture of a cough medicine bottle with two packets of pills on a table

Cough medicine is commonly used to treat symptoms of respiratory conditions – but could it also help slow the progression of Parkinson’s? An exciting trial funded by Cure Parkinson’s aims to find out

This year, a large-scale clinical trial will recruit participants with Parkinson’s to investigate whether ambroxol – a drug commonly used to treat coughs – could help slow the progression of the condition.

The trial follows previous findings indicating that ambroxol may help to eliminate clumps of alpha-synuclein (a protein associated with Parkinson’s) in the brain and that the drug is safe for those with the condition. Preparations are currently underway for the recruitment of trial participants.

The £5.5 million trial has been funded by UK charity Cure Parkinson’s, in partnership with Van Andel Institute – a US non-profit research and science education organisation – and the UK-based John Black Charitable Foundation, alongside Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech, the drug discovery and development arm of Parkinson’s UK.

“This trial is a big step forward in the search to find new treatments for Parkinson’s,” says Will Cook, CEO of Cure Parkinson’s. “Once the ambroxol trial is underway, it will be one of only six phase three trials on public record of potentially disease-modifying drugs in Parkinson’s, worldwide.”

“A leap forward”

Led by researchers at the University College London (UCL), England, the trial will recruit over 300 people with Parkinson’s across 10 to 12 UK-based clinical centres. Participants will take ambroxol for two years, while a control group will be given a placebo.

The drug’s impact will be measured based on its ability to slow the progression of the condition – using a scale that considers factors such as an individual’s movement ability and quality of life.

Study lead Professor Anthony Schapira, head of the Department of Clinical and Movement Neurosciences at UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology, said he was “delighted” to champion the project.

“This will be the first time a drug specifically applied to a cause of Parkinson’s has reached this level of trial,” he said, “and represents ten years of extensive and detailed work in the laboratory and in a proof of principle clinical trial.”

“The movement of ambroxol into a phase three clinical trial is a leap forward in our pursuit of treatments that slow or stop Parkinson’s progression,” added Dr Darren Moore, chair of the Department of Neurodegenerative Science at Van Andel Institute. “Ambroxol has shown promising results in a phase two trial, and because it is a commonly used respiratory medication, it has already gone through rigorous safety testing.

“Very few potential treatments for Parkinson’s have reached phase three trials, which makes [the] news that much more exciting.”

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