A drug withdrawn by the world’s number one biotechnology company, Amgen, has been shown to provide a benefit to a patient suffering from Parkinson’s disease by helping to re-grow vital nerve fibres in his brain, according to a paper published in the journal Nature.

Glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor – a natural agent required by cells to produce the neurotransmitter dopamine – was pulled from Amgen’s pipeline earlier this year after failing in a Phase II study [[29/06/04c]], [[14/02/05c]]. At the time, Amgen’s chairman and chief executive Kevin Sharer said: “We’ve looked at this decision from every perspective – scientific, medical and ethical… but we simply cannot allow trials to continue given the potential safety risks and the absence of proven benefit.” However, two patients had other ideas and launched a case against Amgen seeking continued access to the drug – a move that was rebuffed by a New York judge last month [[09/06/05d]].

In this latest paper, the authors claim a 62-year-old man who had been receiving GDNF infusion directly into the brain but died three months later following a heart attack had demonstrated sprouting of dopaminergic fibres alongside a clinical improvement in disease symptoms. Loss of the brain cells that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine is at the crux of Parkinson’s disease development.