Ground-breaking Alzheimer’s drug may be ‘beginning of the end’ for disease

Brain scan
Brain scan

A drug which slows down Alzheimer’s and reduces memory decline may be “the beginning of the end” for the disease, scientists believe.

Lecanemab is a drug given every two weeks as an intravenous infusion and data published on Wednesday confirms it slows cognitive decline by 27 per cent in sufferers.

The findings of the phase-three clinical trial are the first to ever show a drug can slow Alzheimer’s.

Experts are hopeful the drug, made by Tokyo-based pharmaceutical company Eisai which has partnered with US biotech firm Biogen, will be available by the end of 2023.

Lecenamab is not a cure, experts stress, but an antibody treatment that has been found to slow down how quickly the symptoms worsened over 18 months.

Prof 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 medications adapted to the individual needs of our patients.”

Trial an important first step

Almost 1,800 people with early-onset Alzheimer’s were recruited for the study and graded on their symptoms.

In the placebo group, the average score for a patient’s disease had worsened by 1.66. However, for the treatment cohort, this was 1.21, a 27 per cent slowing.

Prof John Hardy, group leader at the UK Dementia Research Institute at UCL, 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 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.”

The treatment works by targeting the plaque which gathers around brain cells and flushing it out, helping keep neurons performing normally for longer.

Scientists are hopeful that the ground-breaking data may open the door for perhaps more effective treatments to be developed in the future which follow in the footsteps of Lecenamab.

The findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, were presented at the Clinical Trials on Alzheimer’s Disease (CTAD) Conference and also show the drug helped people continue with their day-to-day activities.

‘A truly a historic moment’

Dr Susan Kohlhaas, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, called the findings “truly a historic moment”.

“These exciting findings represent a major step forward 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 the disease in the brain and slow memory decline in clinical trials.”

Dr Richard Oakley, associate director of Research at Alzheimer’s Society, said the drug “could be a game-changer” if ongoing research finds it is as effective as believed.

“[The findings] give us hope that in the future people with early Alzheimer’s disease could have more time with their loved ones,” he said.

The drug has, however, been linked to some severe side effects, including brain bleeds. In the trial, seven people died in the treatment group compared to six in the control. More research is needed to learn about its safety profile, experts say.

“We hope that this drug will make it to patients, but it won’t be suitable for everyone with Alzheimer’s, and it’s only a first step on the journey towards a cure,” Dr Oakley said.

Potential early indicator of Alzheimer’s unveiled

The CTAD conference also saw the unveiling of research which found that a urine test which detects the presence of formic acid could be a potential early indicator of Alzheimer’s.

A study of 574 individuals with various levels of cognitive decline found that those with dementia had increasing amounts of formic acid in their urine and this could be turned into a test in the future.

Corresponding author Dr Qihao Guo, of Shanghai Jiao Tong University Affiliated Sixth People’s Hospital, said: “Urinary formic acid showed an excellent sensitivity for early Alzheimer’s screening.

“The detection of urine biomarkers of Alzheimer’s is convenient and cost-effective, and it should be performed during routine physical examinations of the elderly.”

Read more: How to spot the first early signs of dementia and what can you do about the symptoms?