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Parkinson’s Patients Get New Drugs

The nation’s half-million Parkinson’s disease patients will soon have two new drugs to treat the movement disorder, the first new agents in a dozen years, according to researchers at a Boston neurology meeting last week.

The new drugs represent no treatment breakthrough for Parkinson’s, a common brain disorder that results in jerky movement, tremors, and halting or “frozen” movements. But doctors hope the new choices will enable many patients to delay their use of the mainstay drug, levodopa or L-dopa.

This would be important because L-dopa’s effectiveness wanes over time, necessitating higher doses that can cause side effects, such as severe twitching or jerking, that resemble the symptoms of Parkinson’s itself.

About half of patients taking L-dopa develop such side effects after five years, a figure that goes up to 90 percent after 10 years on the drug.

Another hope is that the two new drugs, called ropinirole and pramipexole, can also be given late in the course of Parkinson’s in addition to L-dopa and other current drugs, perhaps lowering the necessary dose of other drugs.

Both drugs are reportedly in the final stages of approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Research on both was presented last week at the American Academy of Neurology meeting.