Parkinson’s disease progresses relentlessly, affecting more than 5 million people worldwide. Until recently, drug development has focused primarily on preventing buildup of a protein in the brain called alpha-synuclein, the hallmark of the disease. In a groundbreaking study published in Science, Clemens Scherzer, MD, a neurologist at the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, collaborated with colleagues to determine whether it might be possible to prevent the protein from accumulating in the first place. To do so, the team looked for drugs that turn down alpha-synuclein production.

“You need a very large prescription database with many years of follow-up to do this kind of analysis,” says Scherzer. “We found such a database in Norway, where we examined the pharmaceutical history of 4 million people over an 11-year period. After screening more than 1,000 compounds, we discovered that people who took an over-the-counter asthma drug called salbutamol were one-third less likely to develop Parkinson’s. This is a very exciting result that suggests a potential new pathway to treat the disease.”

Not only is salbutamol effective in both mouse models and human cellular models, but because the drug is widely used and its safety well-established, Scherzer’s team can move quickly into clinical trials, potentially shaving years off the typical process for drug development. You can read more about this promising therapy here: