Could a game-changing drug for Alzheimer’s disease be on the horizon? According to a recent study published in the journal Nature, it may be a possibility.
The study, funded by Biogen, a Massachusetts-based pharmaceutical company that has developed an Alzheimer’s drug called aducanumab, involved 165 people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Participants in the study were given either a placebo or aducanumab, an antibody that destroys amyloid plaques that build up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. Researchers believe that these plaque deposits are at least partly responsible for the onset of the disease. In the study, brain scans showed that participants who received the highest dosage of aducanumab had the largest reduction in amyloid plaque. Researchers also said that the rate of cognitive decline slowed in these patients. Brain scans for those who took the placebo showed no change.
The initial results of the study are promising, but the new drug did come with certain side effects, including brain swelling and headaches. Some in the medical community also are cautiously optimistic — or even downright skeptical — about the results.
Dr. James Pickett, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society in London, told The Independent:
“While there were hints that it might have an effect on the symptoms of the disease, we need to see the results from further, larger research trials to understand whether this is the case,” he said.
Gordon Wilcock, emeritus professor of geratology at Oxford University was even more skeptical:
“This is preliminary data about another monoclonal antibody targeting amyloid in Alzheimer’s disease, but whether it will really produce meaningful clinical benefit only definitive phase three clinical trials will show, as the researchers themselves state,” he said. “We have already had previous trials of various anti-amyloid strategies, especially the monoclonal antibodies, that have failed to deliver at phase three.”
The study’s researchers acknowledge that more trials need to be done to confirm the results. Larger trials are planned through the year 2020.
“These results justify further development of aducanumab for the treatment of AD (Alzheimer’s disease),” the researchers said in their report of the study’s initial findings. “Should the slowing of clinical decline be confirmed in ongoing phase 3 clinical trials, it would provide compelling support for the amyloid hypothesis.”
More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s and as the population ages, this disease is becoming more widespread. I’m hopeful that we’ll one day find a cure or durable treatment for this disease that will help people live longer and have a better quality of life after a diagnosis. This study is promising, but like the other experts quoted, I’m cautiously optimistic.