A pharmaceutical workhorse leads the way

Dr. Jonathan Brotchie
Dr. Jonathan Brotchie

Among the world’s best-known and most successful drugs is chloroquine, which over the last 70 years has remained an effective treatment for malaria and rheumatoid arthritis.  Now, researchers are investigating chloroquine’s potential to slow the development of Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Jonathan Brotchie has high hopes for chloroquine, which has demonstrated its ability to interact with one of the brain’s primary growth factors, a protein responsible for the health of the cells in this complex organ. This research is being funded with a $45,000 Porridge for Parkinson’s (Toronto) pilot project grant from Parkinson Canada’s Research Program.

Preliminary work with laboratory mice has shown that chloroquine could stave off the biochemical damage Parkinson’s inflicts on the brain, which should also mitigate effects such as worsening motor control, says Brotchie, a Senior Scientist at Toronto Western Hospital, part of the University Health Network.

Because chloroquine is widely available in a generic form, however, there is little incentive for any pharmaceutical company to assume the risk and expense of exploring the potential of a product that could as easily benefit its competitors.

That’s why Brotchie is grateful to Parkinson Canada for providing funding so he can conduct the preliminary research that could encourage one of these firms to adapt the drug to fight Parkinson’s.

“If I can demonstrate that chloroquine works, then that’s going to de-risk Parkinson’s disease,” he says.

Chloroquine might not be the only drug that can produce the same results in the brain, but it might be the only one available now, and it has already been shown to be safe, Brotchie says. More importantly, what Brotchie and his colleagues learn from working with chloroquine will lay the foundation for future research into even better medications.

“In the long term, chloroquine might not be the best growth factor stimulator, but right now we don’t have anything that has been proven to slow down the progression of the disease,” he says. “Rather than wait 15 years for something better to come along, I feel there’s an opportunity here now.”

It was an inspirational lecture at medical school that originally inspired Brotchie to take several years out of his medical studies to concentrate on brain research.  This research led to a career committed to working on Parkinson disease, to help patients however he could. Chloroquine, he believes, is well worth investigating.

“We want to do everything we can to be responsible for the development of the treatments of tomorrow,” he says.

Read about other researchers recently funded by the Parkinson Canada Research Program by visiting the research section of www.parkinson.ca.