A LANDMARK drug which could slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease has been hailed as “an exciting step forward” by experts after it reduced mental decline in a group of patients by more than a third.
Researchers revealed promising trial results into the use of the experimental drug solanezumab, when it was administered to patients with very early-stage Alzheimer’s.
The antibody therapy reduced mental decline by 34 per cent among a group of patients taking memory and thinking tests.
A cure for the devastating disease, which affects around 90,000 Scots, has eluded scientists for decades.
There are existing drugs to help sufferers manage the symptoms of Alzheimer’s but this trial has been heralded as a major breakthrough as it appears to be the first drug to reduce the speed of cognitive decline.
Analysis into solanezumab, developed by American pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly, found people with mild Alzheimer’s, who have taken the drug for three and a half years, exhibited benefits in cognition compared to patients who had taken the drug for only two years.
A previous trial into solanezumab ended in failure in 2012, but researchers have now found that there was a difference between patients who were given the drug at the start of the trial and those who were given a delayed start.
The discovery was announced at the Alzheimer’s Association International conference in Washington DC.
The news was welcomed by dementia campaigners, who described the news as “exciting” but urged caution on interpreting the findings.
Dr Doug Brown, Alzheimer’s Society’s head of research, said: “After a decade of no new therapies for dementia, [today’s] news is an exciting step forward.
“We will have to wait for the ongoing trials to finish to know the full risks and benefits of these drugs. If they are positive, these drugs will be the first identified to directly interfere with the disease process and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.” A spokeswoman for Alzheimer Scotland said the findings were encouraging as they would provide more time for patients to adjust to their diagnosis.
She said: “Scotland has been at the forefront of improving support in the earliest stages of dementia, through the Scottish Government’s one-year guarantee of Post Diagnostic Support, based on a model developed by Alzheimer Scotland.
“Slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease will allow people more time to make changes and ultimately to live well with dementia.”
International dementia expert Professor June Andrews warned against jumping to conclusions on the trial, which will still need to go through a further trial stage before it could be considered for use on the NHS.
Prof Andrews, director of the Dementia Services Development Centre (DSDC) at Stirling University, said: “It’s always really encouraging to see that pharmaceutical companies are focusing on funding a treatment for dementia because it is such a heartbreaking condition and the number of people with the condition are increasing so fast.
“Even the company themselves are being modest in their claims about what this new medicine has already proven to do, so we all need to be fairly patient until 18 months from now when the final results come.
“In the meantime, there are many things you can do to make life better for those with dementia, although they are less exciting than a miracle pill.”
Professor Richard Morris, professor of neuroscience at Edinburgh University, said the findings could be significant but he would need to wait for further information.
He said: “So I am cautiously optimistic, from the perspective of the audience; they should be too. This is not a mouse study, it’s a people study. And that matters.”
The conference also heard the interim results from a safety study of another antibody therapy called aducanumab.