Most people are familiar with the Ice Bucket Challenge that went viral a couple years ago to raise awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or more familiarly known as ALS. It topped the charts with over $17 million participants raising a substantial amount of money for the cause. So where did these raised funds go? Well, some of that capital has been invested into a research study at the University of Calgary to investigate a potential pre-established drug for use as a treatment for ALS.
Dr. Lawrence Korngut, associate professor at the Cumming School of Medicine and a member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, is spearheading a clinical trial associated with nine hospital centres around Canada to determine if a well-known anti-psychotic drug could be repurposed to either cure or treat symptoms of ALS.
“Pimozide has been well known for decades as a drug approved for treating certain types of psychiatric conditions, like schizophrenia, and it only costs nine cents per pill,” says Korngut. “Recent studies have shown genetic links between schizophrenia and ALS. We knew the next logical step was to test it on human volunteers — patients living with ALS.”
Studies from researchers in Montreal indicated that the use of pimozide to stabilize mobility was receptive in animal models who were born with the equivalent of human ALS. They discovered that the drug had a particular knack for preventing paralysis in fish with a genetic form of ALS by preserving the neuromuscular function – which can be related to the disease in humans.
After only six weeks, the research team started to see results of the drug’s effectiveness. One of the first more typical signs of ALS – loss of control of the thenar muscles – maintained normal functioning. However, it is not known yet if pimozide can be repurposed for this disease. More studies will need to be had to determine if this will only have a stabilizing effect, or if it is curative.
“At this stage, people with ALS should not use this medication. We must confirm that it is useful and safe in the longer term,” comments Korngut. “It is also important to be aware that pimozide is associated with significant side-effects. Therefore, it should only be prescribed in the context of a research study.”
It appears as if things are looking up for ALS patients as more clinical trials are introduced, but there is still no definitive cure for the disease.