The US-based Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research has awarded grants totalling around US$2.9 million for two clinical trials that will examine the potential of drugs already well established in other therapeutic areas to tackle the symptoms and causes of Parkinson’s disease.

One of these compounds is the cholesterol-lowering stalwart simvastatin, marketed as Zocor by Merck & Co and now extensively genericised. French researchers Drs Erwan Bezard and Francois Tison, from the University of Bordeaux and the University Hospital of Bordeaux respectively, will conduct a randomised, placebo-controlled, multiple-crossover trial looking at whether simvastatin can reduce levodopa-induced dyskinesia – the uncontrollable movements that are a side-effect of long-term dopamine replacement – in Parkinson’s disease patients.

The other established drug is israpidine, the calcium channel blocker marketed by GlaxoSmithKline for the management of hypertension and also available in generic form. Dr Tanya Simuni of the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center at Northwestern University in Illinois, US will carry out a Phase II, double-blind, placebo-controlled dosage-finding and tolerability study to determine whether isradipine can act as a disease-modifying agent in early Parkinson’s by rescuing dopamine neurons from the degeneration characteristic of the disease.

“Although the drugs’ current uses for cholesterol and blood pressure management might not seem relevant for PD, researchers found that the mechanisms by which each drug acts had unintended but beneficial effects on Parkinson’s disease pathways in preclinical models of the disease,” the Foundation noted.