New trial to test if cancer drug can effectively treat hallucinations in Parkinson’s patients

pharmafile | October 27, 2020 | News story | Manufacturing and Production Parkinson's, Parkinson's UK 

A new study is set to go ahead that will test if ondansetron is safe and effective in treating Parkinson’s patients who suffer from hallucinations. 

Parkinson’s UK is partnering with University College London (UCL) and investing £1 million in a Phase 2 trial that will explore if the drug is safe and effective against hallucinations. 75% of the 145,000 Parkinson’s patients in the UK experience visual hallucinations, and, during the lockdown, 1 in 10 people with the illness reported an increase in hallucinations. 

Dr Arthur Roach, Director of Research at Parkinson’s UK, said: “It’s vital we find better treatments for people with Parkinson’s who have seen their hallucinations worsen at home and ondansetron offers much hope for them and their families. If successful, positive results from the trial could see this drug, which is already used in the NHS, quickly repurposed to become an available treatment in Parkinson’s disease.

“With the support of Parkinson’s UK, UCL has been rapidly adapting the research during the pandemic, to enable us to drive forward and launch this promising trial, which marks another milestone in our thriving Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech programme.”

The 12-week, double blind placebo-controlled trial is set to enroll 216 people over 2 years across 20-25 NHS clinics in the UK. To accommodate social distancing restrictions, the researchers will conduct most of the study remotely, with face-to-face appointments being limited to essential blood tests or electrocardiograms. 

Suzanne Reeves, the lead researcher and Professor of Old Age Psychiatry and Psychopharmacology at UCL, said: “Visual hallucinations pose a particular challenge in Parkinson’s as the very treatments for motor symptoms in Parkinson’s can also trigger and worsen this distressing symptom. Finding treatments for hallucinations that are both effective and safe is an area of great unmet need. 

“Ondansetron influences visual processing in the brain and its potential for treating visual hallucinations in Parkinson’s was first identified in small studies in the early 1990s. This trial will enable us to find out if ondansetron is effective and safe as a treatment and if it is, we could see clinicians prescribing an inexpensive drug with fewer side effects to people with Parkinson’s throughout the UK.”

The funding for this project comes from Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech, the charity’s drug development arm, which was launched in 2017. 

Conor Kavanagh

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