Thursday, September 18, 2008

MEDICAL NEWS: First Treatment For Huntington's Approved By FDA

(previously published here at

A drug called Xenazine (tetrabenazine) has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as the first treatment for chorea, the involuntary jerking movements that are a symptom of Huntington's Disease.

The drug addresses only specific symptoms, however, and does not target the complete condition. It is also not without major side effects, notes the FDA, such as suicidal thoughts and depression, especially in patients already predisposed to those conditions. Other side effects include drowsiness, insomnia, nausea and restlessness.

Xenazine works by suppressing the ability of dopamine - a neurotransmitter responsible for improving nerve conduction - to communicate with certain nerve cells in the brain, resulting in an over-active system.

Huntington's Disease, or chorea major, is a rare inherited neurological disorder that affects physical, cognitive and behavioral ability - a person's coordination, speech, thought processes and muscle control. Patients with chorea are at higher risk of fall-related injuries.

About 30,000 Americans are currently affected and another 200,000 are at risk of developing the genetic disorder. Symptoms usually manifest between the ages of 30 and 50.

Xenazine should be available by prescription by the end of the year and given the FDA-approval, it is likely (although uncertain) that Medicare and other government or private insurance plans would cover the drug's cost.

The medication is already available in Australia, Canada and Europe and is manufactured by the Washington, D.C.-based Prestwick Pharmaceuticals.

Heather J. Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

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