A new drug that claims to slow the mental decline caused by Alzheimer’s by 36 percent could spell the ‘beginning of the end’ for the degenerative brain disease.
Donanemab — a drug taken as a monthly infusion for 18 months — also appeared to halt the ability to reduce daily activities by up to 40 percent, according to preliminary results released May 3.
And tomorrow, US pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly will unveil the full results of a trial of its drug – the second to show it slows the progression of dementia.
Less than a year ago, another drug, lecanemab, was found to reduce cognitive decline by 27 percent in people with the memory-robbing disease. It was approved for use in the US on July 7, while the drug is ‘on the horizon’ in the UK.
It comes just weeks after news presenter Fiona Phillips heartbreakingly revealed the 62-year-old’s shock Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Dementia affects 900,000 people in the UK and an estimated 7 million people in the US, while around 850,000 Britons and 5.8 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease (file photo)
It comes just weeks after news presenter Fiona Phillips heartbreakingly revealed her shock Alzheimer’s diagnosis aged 62.
Writing for The Mirror, Alzheimer’s Society associate director Dr Richard Oakley said: ‘After 20 years of no new Alzheimer’s drugs in the UK, we now have two potential new drugs in 12 months.’
Donanemab works by clearing clusters of plaque from the brain known as amyloid, which is closely associated with Alzheimer’s disease. It is given to patients by intravenous injection once a month for up to 18 months or until the amyloid clusters clear up in the brain.
The drug is a monoclonal antibody – a man-made protein that binds to amyloid clusters in the brain, prompting other cells to remove them.
In a phase 3 trial, donanemab reduced patients’ ability to think clearly and perform daily tasks by 36 percent compared to a placebo.
And tomorrow, experts around the world will begin weighing the risks of breakthrough drugs against the benefits, as such drugs can carry risk factors such as brain swelling and bleeding.
How does donanemeb work?
Donanemab has been heralded as an ‘encouraging’ development in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease after data showed it slowed the progression of the condition by 35 per cent.
The drug is a monoclonal antibody, a man-made protein that acts like an antibody.
It is administered to patients through an intravenous injection and then travels to the brain.
Once inside the organ, it binds to amyloid clumps that are already present.
This then prompts other cells called microglia, which are responsible for maintaining neurons, to clean them up.
Researchers say removing amyloid could help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, arguing that the clumps are toxic and disrupt communication between cells.
About 90 percent of Alzheimer’s patients have amyloid clumps in their brains.
But studies have also shown that people who don’t have the condition may have clots in their brains.
Scientists still aren’t sure what causes Alzheimer’s disease, but another theory that’s gaining traction is that it’s linked to damage to blood vessels in the brain.
The results of the donanemeb trial will be published today at the Alzheimer’s Association International conference in Amsterdam, and the drug could be licensed in the UK within a year to 18 months as safe.
The NHS will then need to assess cost-effectiveness when it comes to who it can give the drug to. Experts fear that this could make donanemab available only to those who can afford to go privately.
Although the cost of donanemab has not yet been disclosed, the researchers suggested it would cost $1,600 (£1,273) per dose, or $20,000 (£15,909) annually.
And after the initial results of the study were unveiled in May, top UK doctors warned that the NHS was not ready to roll out breakthrough drugs and needed to ‘gear up’ now to prepare for such treatments.
About 850,000 Britons and 5.8 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease.
The disease is the leading cause of dementia, a condition in which sufferers lose their ability to remember, think or make decisions that interfere with daily activities.
Dementia affects 900,000 people in the UK and an estimated 7 million in the US.
In a trial of 1,182 people with early-stage disease, researchers found donanemeb reduced Alzheimer’s progression by more than a third compared to placebo.
The drug works by using the immune system to help remove toxic plaque buildup in the brain known as amyloid, which is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
About half (47 percent) of trial participants had no evidence of amyloid plaques at 12 months, the company said, compared with 29 percent of the placebo group.
Those taking donanemeb experienced a 39 percent lower risk of disease progressing to a later stage than those taking placebo, trial data showed.
Less than a year ago, another drug called lecanemab (pictured) was found to reduce cognitive decline by 27 percent in patients with memory loss.
When follow-up brain scans showed that the amyloid had been removed, the treatment was stopped, and the volunteers were transferred to the placebo-arm of the study.
This suggests that it may provide a way to ‘induce remission’ in Alzheimer’s and then monitor it without treatment.
The condition is considered a global health concern as people live longer. This places an increasing burden on healthcare systems, including in the UK.
Treating and caring for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is estimated to cost Britain £25 billion each year, according to Alzheimer’s Research UK, with the majority of this being spent on social care.
What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain, in which nerve cells die as a result of the formation of abnormal proteins.
It disrupts the transmitters that carry messages and shrinks the brain.
More than 5 million people in the US suffer from the disease, where it is the 6th leading cause of death, and more than 1 million Britons have it.
As brain cells die, the function they provide is lost.
These include memory, adaptation and the ability to think and reason.
The progression of the disease is slow and gradual.
On average, people live five to seven years after diagnosis, but some may live ten to 15 years.
Short-term memory loss Dissociation Behavioral changes Mood changes Difficulty dealing with money or making phone calls
Severe memory loss, forgets close family members, familiar objects or places, becomes anxious and depressed over the inability to make sense of the world, leading to aggressive behavior May eventually lose the ability to walk May have trouble eating Most will eventually require 24-hour care
Source: Alzheimer’s Association