A daily pill designed to prevent Parkinson’s disease from developing and leading to tremors and stiffness may soon offer relief to millions of people living with the condition. Scientists are set to reveal new findings this week, suggesting their drug candidate can halt Parkinson’s progression following tests on mice and cells from people with the disease.
Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s, and all existing treatments are aimed at alleviating symptoms like tremors and stiffness. Approximately 145,000 people in the UK live with Parkinson’s, making it the fastest-growing neurological condition globally. The number of cases is expected to increase by a fifth between 2020 and 2030 due to population growth and ageing.
Biopharmaceutical company Samsara Therapeutics, based in Oxford, has developed a treatment focused on enhancing a process called “autophagy“. Autophagy is the mechanism by which cells cleanse themselves and prevent toxic material from accumulating.
Peter Hamley, chief scientific officer at Samsara Therapeutics, shared that the research would demonstrate that boosting autophagy reduces the toxic protein and restores movement and motor control in the mice tested during the trial. “We think there is a chance of reversing Parkinson’s, although it’s more likely that it would halt it,” Hamley said.
Samsara plans to initiate its first human trial later this year in Holland, potentially bringing the drug to market within five to six years. Hamley believes the impact on those living with Parkinson’s would be “massive”, as no current drugs affect the condition’s progression.
The company is also exploring other drug candidates using the same autophagy-boosting process to treat Alzheimer’s and motor neuron disease, both of which involve toxic build-ups within a person’s cells. Hamley said the priority is to treat diseases that would benefit from these approaches.
He also suggested that, in the long run, autophagy could potentially be used to extend a person’s healthy lifespan. “My view is, once we get a safe drug on the market that we know induces autophagy or other interesting longevity mechanisms, then we can see that applying that to people who don’t have a disease, but I think that is a long way off,” Hamley added.
This research is part of a growing wave of interest in science aimed at helping people live better for longer. Tech giants like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, PayPal founder Peter Thiel, and Google founder Larry Page have all invested in longevity companies.
Last year, British company Genflow debuted on the London Stock Exchange, having previously been backed by billionaire investor Jim Mellon. The company is developing a product centred around a variant of the Sirtuin 6 gene, found in centenarians and thought to repair DNA damage, boost genes, and extend a person’s health span by up to a quarter.