A skin patch relieved symptoms of people with early-stage Parkinson's disease and may offer advantages to taking pills to treat the progressive brain disorder, researchers reported Wednesday.
The study, involving 277 people in Canada and the United States with early-stage Parkinson's, assessed the Neupro patch, made by Germany's Schwarz Pharma. It delivers a drug called rotigotine that acts like a brain chemical that is deficient in people with the disease.
Patients who wore the patch showed a significant easing of their symptoms after six months of treatment, according to the study in the journal Neurology. Those getting a placebo saw their symptoms get worse, the study found.
The study was funded by Schwarz Pharma.
The patch is applied once a day and delivers rotigotine continuously through the skin. Currently, many patients take pills at least three times a day to treat symptoms of the incurable disease.
"I think it's an important new development for Parkinson's patients. For a significant portion of patients, this may offer real advantages," Dr. Ray Watts, chairman of the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Department of Neurology and leader of the study, said in an interview.
Parkinson's affects nerve cells in the area of the brain that controls muscle movement and is characterized by a shortage of the brain chemical dopamine. Rotigotine imitates the effects of dopamine and helps make up for the shortage.
The disease's main symptoms are trembling in the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face, muscle rigidity, slowness of movement and impaired balance and coordination. The symptoms, which worsen over time, usually develop after age 60.
The study did not directly compare the patch with pills currently used to treat the disease.
Schwarz Pharma official Michael Davis said the company expected to win approval from the Food and Drug Administration for the patch to treat early-stage Parkinson's disease in the first half of 2007. Davis said the patch was already sold in Germany, Britain and Austria.