Georgetown Huntington Disease Center Studies New Drug to Control Unwanted Movements

Posted in News Release

WASHINGTON (June 17, 2014) – The Huntington Disease Care, Education and Research Center at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, in collaboration with Georgetown University Medical Center, is studying a new therapy to manage uncontrollable movements, called chorea, experienced by patients with Huntington disease. 

Huntington disease (HD) is a hereditary, progressively degenerative brain disorder for which there is no cure, and only one approved treatment for symptoms. HD causes involuntary body movements, cognitive decline and a host of behavioral disturbances that slowly diminish a person’s ability to walk, talk and reason.

“First-HD” is a multi-center phase III, randomized study at medical centers in the U.S. and Canada that examines the effectiveness, safety and tolerability of an investigational drug called SD-809. The study is double blind and placebo controlled, meaning neither patients nor doctors know who receives SD-809 or the placebo. 

The drug works similarly to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drug tetrabenazine (Xenazine®), proven to reduce chorea in people with HD. The body metabolizes SD-809 more slowly than tetrabenazine, and researchers want to know if it is effective in controlling chorea, if it can provide more consistent and predictable drug levels and if it can be given less often and at a lower dose than tetrabenazine.

“The potential benefit of this drug is better quality of life,“ said Karen Anderson, MD, director of the Huntington Disease Care, Education and Research Center, and professor of psychiatry and neurology at Georgetown. “Often patients who have reached this stage in the disease have trouble swallowing, as well as cognitive issues. It could make life easier for them and their caregivers if they have fewer doses to take and to remember. Controlling the chorea is important to prevent falls and can help a patient maintain a better eating routine, as eating is often disrupted by unwanted body movements.”

Eligible patients are those over the age of 18 with a diagnosis of Huntington disease who have not taken tetrabenazine in the past six months. Participants will be involved in the trial for about four months and will be compensated for study-related travel.

The study is being coordinated by the Huntington Study Group (  Funding to Georgetown University for this and other research studies for which Anderson will serve as principal investigator is provided by Auspex Pharmaceuticals.

To learn more about this and other HD clinical trials, please call Hope Heller at Georgetown at 202-687-1366.

About Georgetown University Medical Center
Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care (through MedStar Health).  GUMC’s mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis — or “care of the whole person.”  The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing & Health Studies, both nationally ranked; Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, designated as a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute; and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization, which accounts for the majority of externally funded research at GUMC including a Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health.