A second drug has been shown to slow the progression of the main form of dementia.
The results of a study, published in preliminary form by drugmaker Eli Lilly, show that their drug donanemab reduced the rate of cognitive decline of Alzheimer’s patients in one study by between 27 and 35%.
Those on the drug were also better able to maintain normal daily activities than patients not receiving it.
“This result confirms that we are entering the era of the treatment of Alzheimers disease,” said Dr Cath Mummery, clinical lead at the Clinic for Cognitive Disorders, National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, London.
Six month ago, the pharmaceutical company Esai has announced its drug called lecanemab has shown similar efficacy in slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s.
The drugs, while potentially game-changing for Alzheimer’s, have their drawbacks.
Two and possibly a third of the 1,700 donanemab study participants died of brain edema after receiving the drug.
Similar events, including bleeding in the brain, were seen in the lecanemab trial, although it was difficult to establish a direct connection to the medicine itself.
Both drugs are synthetic antibodies, which mimic those produced by our immune systems, and designed to target amyloid, a “sticky” junk protein that builds up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.
The drugs have shown the ability to completely eliminate amyloid buildup and this is believed to be the reason for their effectiveness.
But the effects are, at least for the duration of these processes, modest. No drug has yet been shown to stop, let alone reverse the impacts of Alzheimer’s.
But they show that after years of failure, Alzheimer’s research is on the right track.
‘We are now on the cusp of a first generation of Alzheimer’s treatments, something many thought impossible just a decade ago,’ said Dr Susan Kolhaas of Alzheimer’s Research UK.
Another big challenge is cost.
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Antibody drugs are very expensive to make: in the US, lecanemab treatment costs around $26,500 (£21,000) a year.
They also need to be given monthly via drip and require regular checkups in a brain scanner.
“This news underscores the urgency of preparing the NHS to make these treatments available should regulators deem them safe and effective,” said Kolhaas.
Lecanemab was approved by the US drug regulator in January. A decision in Europe is expected in 2024.
Regulators will make a decision on this donanemab once full trial data is released later this year.