What happened

Shares of Sorrento Therapeutics (NASDAQ:SRNE) were jumping by 6.2% as of 11:40 a.m. EST on Wednesday after spiking as much as 14.9% earlier in the day. The clinical-stage biotech announced encouraging results from a discovery study that evaluated the potential of experimental drug resiniferatoxin (RTX) in treating Parkinson's disease.

So what

Sorrento didn't really have high hopes for RTX in Parkinson's disease. However, the company's lab study found that mice who received an injection of RTX experienced a notable improvement in motor function. No significant adverse effects were observed in the mice.

Neurons on a blue/green background.

Image source: Getty Images.

Both Sorrento and investors were pleased with the unexpectedly positive results. Sorrento CEO Henry Ji stated:

At Sorrento, I encourage our scientists to be smart and bold when thinking about drug discovery and breakthrough therapies for unmet medical needs. In this case the outcome was unlikely -- we were told the idea was unusual -- and now we may be on the path to an application of our drug that could help Parkinson's patients cope better with the debilitating motor effects of their disease.

But it's still very early before it will be known if RTX truly has potential in helping Parkinson's disease patients. In addition, Sorrento specifically noted that there weren't significant effects on dopamine levels in the mice that were injected with RTX. That's surprising since the loss of dopamine in the brain causes issues with motor function in Parkinson's disease patients.

Sorrento thinks that this lack of change in dopamine levels could mean that the improved motor function in the mice was caused by factors other than direct protection of what are known as nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons. The company suspects that RTX could be modulating neuroinflammation and/or relieving pain, thereby improving motor function.

Now what

Sorrento plans to publish the full results of the discovery study in a major scientific journal later this year. In addition, the company will present the data at an upcoming neurosciences conference.

In the meantime, Sorrento will keep moving forward with preclinical work for RTX. The company's goal is to file for Food and Drug Administration approval for the initiation of a phase 1 clinical study by the end of 2019.