A new drug, donanemab, has been found to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, a type of dementia.
Alzheimer’s is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that leads to mild memory loss, and in some cases, the inability to carry on a conversation and respond to the environment.
Donanemab, developed by Eli Lilly, works by removing plaques of a protein called amyloid that builds up in the brain of people with Alzheimer’s.
The drug only works in Alzheimer’s disease and not in other types of dementia.
During the drug trials, researchers examined 1,736 people aged 60 to 85 with early-stage Alzheimer’s.
For 18 months, half of them received a monthly infusion of the treatment and the other half were given a placebo (false drug).
The patients were assessed in groups based on their levels of another Alzheimer’s-associated protein called tau.
The findings of the trials published in the journal of the American Medical Association said after 76 weeks of treatment, donanemab slowed clinical decline by 35.1 percent in people with early Alzheimer’s whose brain scans showed low or medium levels of tau.
When the results were combined for people who had different levels of this protein, there was a 22.3 percent slowing in disease progression.
“Among participants with early symptomatic Alzheimer disease and amyloid and tau pathology, donanemab significantly slowed clinical progression at 76 weeks in those with low/medium tau and in the combined low/medium and high tau pathology population,” the findings said.
But the drug was not without some side effects.
According to the published findings, up to a third of the patients on donanemab experienced brain swelling.
For most, it resolved without causing symptoms. However, three volunteers died as a result of the side effect.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the health spending watchdog in England, is already assessing whether the drug can be used in the National Health Service (NHS).
Sky News quoted Richard Oakley, associate director of research at Alzheimer’s Society, as saying the drug is a “turning point in the fight against Alzheimer’s and science is proving that it is possible to slow down the disease”.
“Treatments like donanemab are the first steps towards a future where Alzheimer’s disease could be considered a long-term condition alongside diabetes or asthma – people may have to live with it, but they could have treatments that allow them to effectively manage their symptoms and continue to live fulfilled lives,” the doctor said.
Donanemab is similar to lecanemab which the United States had approved for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.