Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have found that painkiller ibuprofen (known to most Indians by the popular brand name Brufen) could protect from the degenerative brain disease known as Parkinson’s. In a line, the researchers observed over a lakh of people over six years and found that those who used ibuprofen (to kill pain) more often and in larger amounts were significantly less likely to develop Parkinson’s. The researchers concluded after six years of study that “more research is needed as to why and how” this is the case. Note that this is an ‘observational’ study meaning it was not a drug trial with a control arm.
So the next step is to do clinical trials to prove conclusively that this is the case, and that ibuprofen will prove to be safe in the doses needed to put off Parkinson’s. But who will do them? After all, performing drug trials is far more complicated, requires many more regulatory hoops to be jumped, and is expensive. Who could possibly be interested in doing this for a drug that is old, has been off-patent for years, and is made available by Chinese and Indian companies at very cheap rates. Unless, of course, they can patent its ‘new use,’ create unique dosage forms, prevent competition from selling ibuprofen except as a painkiller, and charge a premium. Some countries may not allow that – India expressly forbids patenting the ‘mere’ new use of a known drug.
In the meantime, no doubt, there will be other studies like this one until and unless the burden of data turns out so overwhelming that regulators, and the medical community is forced to sit up and take notice.
Either way, many more years could pass before ibuprofen becomes conclusively accepted as a preventive against Parkinson’s. Take aspirin, that other famous painkiller which was suspected to be useful in reducing the risk of cardiovascular events in the seventies. It was approved by the US FDA for this only in 1988.