A DRUG that could reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease for the first time is to be tested by sufferers of dementia across Britain.
Until now, drugs used to treat the devastating disease have only delayed the onset of symptoms.
But researchers hope the new drug could have an impact on the progression of a disease that affects more than 400,000 men and women in the UK.
The 1.4 million clinical trial centres on a drug developed by TauRx Therapeutics, a company headed by Claude Wischik, Professor of Psychiatric Geratology and Old Age Psychiatry at Aberdeen University.
Professor Wischik, who has spent 20 years researching Alzheimer’s disease, said: "The brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease have two abnormal structures - one of those is neurofibrillary tangles which contributes directly to the dementing process and ultimately kills brain cells. This process begins some 30 years before the onset of clinical dementia and accelerates over time.
"This trial aims to see if it is possible to dissolve the tangles of proteins in the brain that German neuropsychiatrist Alzheimer discovered. These tangles have been shown to correlate with dementia.
"Our drug is different to existing treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, some of which mask the progression of the disease. We want to see if it can modify the course of the disease, following promising results in laboratory tests."
Doctors have begun recruiting patients, who have already been referred to the Old Age Psychiatric Service, for the drug trial. A total of 400 patients are expected to take part in the study from centres across Britain, including two NHS Grampian hospitals, the Royal Cornhill Hospital in Aberdeen and the Ugie Hospital in Peterhead. Other centres involved in the trial are Birmingham, Cardiff, Stoke, Bury St Edmunds, Huddersfield, London and Ipswich.
Dr Douglas Fowlie, a consultant psychiatrist who is leading the clinical research in NHS Grampian, said: "This drug could be fundamentally very important. The science so far suggests that it begins to reverse the processes that cause Alzheimer’s disease.
"It is a potentially very exciting development. All the treatments currently in use are treatments that modify the symptoms and delay the progress of the disease at best, as opposed to actually undoing the pathology that is there in the first place."
The research team is expected to report the findings of its study by this time next year and, if successful, TauRx Therapeutics could then move to seek approval to license the drug to be made across the globe in a potentially lucrative money spinner for both Aberdeen University and the company, which are co-funding the research.
A spokeswoman for the university said it was hoped that the new drug would have "great benefits" to patients clinically diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
She added: "Dementia currently affects over 750,000 people in the UK. It affects one person in 20 over the age of 65 and one person in five over the age of 80. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and in Grampian alone the care costs for dementia are 100 million a year."