A drug that can reduce early Alzheimer’s by up to 60 percent has been hailed as a ‘turning point’ in the fight against the disease.
In a ‘defining moment’ for dementia research, trial results of donanemab showed that it significantly delayed the deterioration of symptoms in people with this form of dementia.
It is the second treatment after lecanemab to offer hope to patients in what experts hail as the ‘decade of Alzheimer’s’, which could one day rival other long-term conditions such as asthma or diabetes.
Scientists say it ends a decades-long debate over whether sticky plaques or the accumulation of amyloid are at least partially responsible for the degenerative disease.
Donanemeb is given to Alzheimer’s patients by IV infusion once a month. Monoclonal antibodies—a man-made version of proteins produced by the body to fight harmful substances—travel to the brain. Once inside the organ, donanemab binds to the toxic build-up of amyloid plaques—a hallmark of the memory-robbing disease. This prompts immune cells known as microglia to clear
Researchers today unveiled that donanemab reduced Alzheimer’s cognitive decline by 35 percent by removing toxic plaques in the brain.
Donanemab halted mental decline in about half of patients for more than a year, according to results presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International conference in Amsterdam this afternoon.
Developed by Eli Lilly & Company, the US pharmaceutical company has announced that it has already sought regulatory approval from the FDA and is expected to apply in the UK within six months.
This means patients can start treatment with the drug within 18 months.
The drug – given as a monthly infusion – was found to be most effective in people under the age of 75 in the early stages of the disease.
Researchers compared nearly 1,800 people with early-stage Alzheimer’s with patients given donanemab or a dummy drug for 18 months.
Those with mild cognitive impairment in the early stages of the disease benefited the most, with a 60 percent reduction compared to placebo.
In early Alzheimer’s patients whose brain scans showed low or moderate levels of a protein called tau, the drug was shown to slow clinical decline by 35 percent.
According to the results published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, when the results were combined for people with different levels of this protein, there was a 22.3 percent slowdown in disease progression.
Dr Richard Oakley, associate director of research and innovation at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘This really is a turning point in the fight against Alzheimer’s and the science is showing that it is possible to slow the disease.
‘Treatments like donanemab are the first step towards a future where Alzheimer’s disease can be treated as a long-term condition alongside diabetes or asthma – people can live with it, but they can have treatments that can effectively manage their symptoms and keep them going. To live life to the fullest.’
The drug works by using the immune system to remove amyloid – the toxic plaque that forms in the brain that stops brain cells from communicating.
As well as delaying the worsening of symptoms by an average of 4.5 to 7.5 months, the drug meant patients could continue with daily activities for longer, the researchers said.
However, there were some serious side effects such as brain swelling and bleeding in some patients, as well as three deaths associated with taking the drug.
Experts say patients need to be aware of the risks of treatment so they can choose whether to take these drugs.
Dr Susan Kohlhaus of Alzheimer’s Research UK said today’s announcement marked ‘another milestone’ after decades of research.
He said: ‘We are entering a new era where Alzheimer’s disease may be curable.
‘As a potential first-generation treatment, the effects of donanemeb are modest. But these results also confirm that removing amyloid from the brain can change the course of Alzheimer’s and help people with this devastating disease if treated at the right time.
‘Set against this, it is clear that donanemeb comes with side effects, which can be very serious for some. Regulators need to balance these benefits and risks before granting a license for its use.’