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Pulling the Plug

Thursday February 15, 2018

Recently, a pharmaceutical giant announced it was pulling the plug on its pursuit of new medications for both Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer's. This announcement comes in the face of the fact that demand for treatments for both these afflictions, driven by the aging baby boomers, is set to rise sharply over the coming decades. The message is clear: “We aren’t anywhere close to figuring out how to treat these diseases. We give up.”

blog illo 48 pharma exit

What does this tell us? Nothing is certain in Parkinson’s, but it seems that if big Pharma was going to find a cure, they would have by now. It tells us that the traditional way we think about PD isn’t productive when it comes to innovating new breakthroughs. If that is true, it’s time to start finding new ways to think about Parkinson’s if we want to make progress in treating it. Part of that is happening already, as we realize that it is more than a brain disease, that it may originate in other parts of the body, and that the way to deal with it may be to stop it before it ever gets to the brain.

But what about those of us who already have full-blown PD affecting our brains? There are messages here for us as well. First, it’s a mistake to expect a cure to come down the pipe in some hypothetical near-future to lift the burden of Parkinson’s from our shoulders. We must learn to live as well as possible today, because we can’t wait for years to feel healthier. Fortunately, we do have tools to make our lives better, if we use them.

I can vouch for several interventions that help me live significantly better with PD. These have all been developed in the last few years, and none of them through the big drug companies. LSVT speech therapy has made life better for me in a huge way. Regular strenuous exercise not only makes me feel better, I can see and hear it making my voice louder and my hand steadier as I do it. Deep brain stimulation has also proved to be a game changer for me in my daily attempts to approximate normal.

Yes, yes, every case of Parkinson’s is different, and not every person will benefit from what works for someone else. But we don’t have much choice if we want to make life bearable. We have to act now. The earlier you practice some interventions – medication or exercise, the more gentle your progression will be, and the better quality of life you will experience each day. A big part of the value of any of these steps is the feeling that there is something you can do besides wait to see if a cure comes before you are disabled. You can play an active part in resisting the undertow of this disease. You are not a bystander in your own life.

And what about those like the company that just left the field? When will they get serious again about treating Parkinson’s? My guess is that the top execs who make these multi-million-dollar decisions are getting up there in years and will soon change their minds about the value of this cause. The fierce urgency to find a cure will hit them when, in some small consultation room, after a series of simple tests, an earnest neurologist gravely informs them “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you have Parkinson’s disease.”

Peter Dunlap-ShohlPeter Dunlap-Shohl
NWPF Blogger

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