Promise on the Horizon for Huntington’s


Image: Flickr – Dominic’s pics
Results from a phase II trial of the experimental drug Dimebon (latrepirdine) in people with Huntington’s disease have provided indications that it may improve cognition. The drug, being developed by Medivation, Inc., is also in Phase III trials for Alzheimer’s disease. In July 2009, Medivation and Pfizer, Inc. launched a Phase III clinical trial (HORIZON) of the drug for Huntington’s disease.

Huntington’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that impacts movement, behaviour and cognition, generally resulting in death within 20 years of the disease’s onset. The disease steadily erodes memory and ability to think and learn. Over time, this cognitive impairment contributes to the loss of the ability to work and perform the activities of daily life. There are no treatments current available that effectively alter the course of the disease or improve cognition.

We have previously reported on the potential for Dimebon in Alzheimer’s disease (July 2008, July 2009), where the ability of the drug to stabilise and/or enhance mitochondrial function is believed to be of benefit. Mitochondria are also thought to play a role in the development of Huntington’s disease, suggesting that Dimebon could also have utility in this condition.

Karl Kieburtz, M.D., University of Rochester Medical Center neurologist and lead investigator on the Horizon trial, said:

“This is the first clinical trial that has focused on what is perhaps the most disabling aspect of the disease. While more investigation needs to be done, these results are encouraging and show, for the first time, a statistically significant benefit in terms of improved cognitive function in patients with Huntington’s disease.”

dimebon (latrepirdine) structure
Dimebon (latrepirdine)
In the phase II study, the impact of the drug on 91 patients over a 90 day period was assessed. Half were given the drug and the other half a placebo. The patients were then evaluated using a cognitive tool called the Mini-Mental State Examination. This test – which is used by clinicians to evaluate the stage and severity of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease – consists of questions used to evaluate an individual’s orientation, memory, and ability to follow commands. The researchers found that the drug on average improved the scores of people taking the drug compared to those who received the placebo. Although the treatment had no significant impact on the Unified Huntington’s Disease Rating Scale (UHDRS) or the Alzheimer Disease Assessment Scale–cognitive subscale (ADAS-cog), the results support further investigation in Huntington’s disease.

Results of the study are published in the Archives of Neurology.

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