A ‘new era’ as study finds full potential of new Alzheimer’s drug

Alzheimer's: Dr Chris discusses the early signs of condition

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A professor has said today marks a “new era” in tackling Alzheimer’s disease as results from a study trialling the use of a memory reversing drug were released. The findings have proved a 30-year theory that a certain protein in the brain is partly responsible for the disease. It is now hoped this will pave the way for “life-changing” Alzheimer’s treatments in the future.

Professor Nick Fox, director of the Dementia Research Centre, said: “I believe it confirms a new era of disease modification for Alzheimer’s disease.

“An era that comes after more that 20 years of hard work on anti-amyloid immunotherapies – by many many people – and many disappointments along the way.”

The professor is not alone. Experts across the board are hailing the “beginning of the end” in the search to prevent Alzheimer’s – the most common form of dementia in the UK – following the publishing of the results about the drug lecanemab.

Lecanemab is designed to target and clear amyloid – one of the proteins that builds up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s that was found to slow decline in patients’ memory and thinking.

Initial results of the phase three clinical trial were reported by Eisai, a Tokyo-based pharmaceutical company that has partnered with US biotech firm Biogen to develop lecanemab. 

But today (November 30), Eisai shared the full results, which have also been published in The New England Journal of Medicine, at the Clinical Trials on Alzheimer’s Disease Conference in San Francisco.

Participants, aged between 50 and 90 years, were given a bi-weekly infusion of either lecanemab or a placebo.

The results show the drug was able to slow the rate of decline in people’s memory and thinking as well as function over 18 months, and also helped people with day-to-day activities.

The trial, known as Clarity AD included 1,795 people with early-stage Alzheimer’s and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) due to Alzheimer’s, who received a bi-weekly infusion of either lecanemab or a dummy drug (placebo).

Scientists found that after 18 months the drug slowed the disease progression by 27 percent compared with patients taking the placebo.

Professor John Hardy, group leader at the UK Dementia Research Institute at University College London, commented: “This trial is an important first step, and I truly believe it represents the beginning of the end.

“The amyloid theory has been around for 30 years so this has been a long time coming.

“It’s fantastic to receive this confirmation that we’ve been on the right track all along, as these results convincingly demonstrate, for the first time, the link between removing amyloid and slowing the progress of Alzheimer’s disease.

“The first step is the hardest, and we now know exactly what we need to do to develop effective drugs. It’s exciting to think that future work will build on this, and we will soon have life-changing treatments to tackle this disease.”

However, experts warned that UK officials have much to do to prepare to deliver the drug, provided it gets regulatory approval.

“It’s safe to say that the NHS is not ready for a new era of dementia treatment,” Doctor Susan Kohlhaas, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said.

“We estimate that unless there are drastic changes in how people access specialist diagnostic tests for Alzheimer’s disease, only two percent of people eligible for drugs like lecanemab will be able to access them.”

What’s more, Professor Bart De Strooper, director at the institute said: “The participants of this trial were all people with very early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, which raises the question of how we ensure that people can access these drugs at the right stage in their disease course.

“In parallel, we must focus on making early diagnosis easier and more accessible, so that treatments can be administered when they are most likely to have a positive impact, before amyloid levels are too high and start to cause damage to the brain.”

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive condition, meaning the symptoms get worse over time.

Common signs in its early stages include:

  • Forgetting about recent conversations or events
  • Misplacing items
  • Forgetting the names of places and objects
  • Having trouble thinking of the right word
  • Asking questions repetitively
  • Showing poor judgement or find it harder to make decisions
  • Becoming less flexible and more hesitant to try new things.

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