Swiss drugmaker Novartis has been given the go-ahead in Switzerland to sell its Exelon product as a treatment for dementia associated with Parkinson’s disease.

Exelon (rivastigmine) is already widely used to treat the decline in cognitive function caused by Alzheimer’s disease, and is the first drug in the cholinesterase inhibitor class to be approved for more than one type of dementia.

Swiss approval for the new indication coincided with a positive opinion for Exelon in Parkinson’s disease from the European Union’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use. The drug is already cleared for this use in several Latin American countries, including Brazil.

Up to 40% of people with Parkinson's disease suffer from dementia, so the new indication has the potential to lend further momentum to Exelon’s sales growth. In 2005, the drug brought in $467 million to Novartis coffers, a rise of 11% over the prior year.

Approval in Parkinson’s disease patients was based on the results of the EXPRESS study, which showed that after 24 weeks’ treatment, 41% of Exelon-treated patients showed improvements on a recognised disease measurement scale, versus 30% of those in the placebo group.