A drug that slows Alzheimer’s disease and reduces memory decline could be “the beginning of the end” for the disease, scientists say.
Lecanemab is a drug given every two weeks as an intravenous infusion and data released Wednesday confirms that it slows cognitive decline by 27% in patients.
The results of the phase three clinical trial are the first to show that a drug can slow Alzheimer’s disease.
Experts hope the drug, made by Tokyo-based pharmaceutical company Eisai, which has partnered with US biotech company Biogen, will be available by the end of 2023.
Lecenamab is not a cure, experts point out, but an antibody treatment that slows how quickly symptoms worsen over 18 months.
Professor Bart De Strooper, Director of the UK Dementia Research Institute, said: “This trial proves that Alzheimer’s disease can be treated.
“I look forward to a future where we treat this and other neurodegenerative diseases with a battery of drugs tailored to the individual needs of our patients.”
Trial an important first step
Nearly 1,800 people with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease were recruited for the study and categorized based on their symptoms.
In the placebo group, a patient’s mean disease score worsened by 1.66. However, for the treatment cohort, it was 1.21, a 27% slowdown.
Professor John Hardy, Group Leader at UCL’s UK Dementia Research Institute, added: “This trial is an important first step, and I truly believe it represents the beginning of the end.
“These results convincingly demonstrate, for the first time, the link between the elimination of amyloid and the slowing of the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
“The first step is the hardest, and now we know exactly what we need to do to develop effective drugs.”
The treatment works by targeting plaque that builds up around brain cells and removing it, helping neurons to function normally for longer.
The scientists hope that the groundbreaking data can open the door to possibly more effective treatments to be developed in the future that will follow in the footsteps of Lecenamab.
The results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, were presented at the Clinical Trials in Alzheimer’s Disease (CTAD) conference and also show that the drug helped people get on with their daily activities.
“A truly historic moment”
Dr Susan Kohlhaas, research director at Alzheimer’s Research UK, called the findings ‘truly a historic moment’.
“These exciting findings represent a major breakthrough for dementia research and could herald a new era for people with Alzheimer’s disease,” she said.
“This is the first time a drug has been shown to both reduce disease in the brain and slow memory decline in clinical trials.”
Dr Richard Oakley, associate director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said the drug “could be a game-changer” if ongoing research proves it to be as effective as believed.
“[The findings] give us hope that in the future, people with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease will be able to spend more time with their loved ones,” he said.
The drug has, however, been associated with some serious side effects, including bleeding in the brain. In the trial, seven people died in the treatment group compared to six in the control group. More research is needed to learn more about its safety profile, experts say.
“We hope this drug will reach patients, but it won’t be right for everyone with Alzheimer’s disease, and it’s only the first step on the road to recovery,” Dr. Oakley said. .
Potential early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease unveiled
The CTAD conference also saw the unveiling of research that revealed that a urine test that detects the presence of formic acid could be a potential early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.
A study of 574 people with different levels of cognitive decline found that people with dementia had increasing amounts of formic acid in their urine, which could be a test in the future.
Corresponding author Dr. Qihao Guo, Sixth People’s Hospital Affiliated with Shanghai Jiao Tong University, said, “Urinary formic acid showed excellent sensitivity for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease.
“Detection of urinary biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease is practical and cost-effective, and should be performed during routine physical examinations of older adults.”