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Trial Shows New Drug Could Be A Turning Point In Fight Against Alzheimer’s

Hannah Walton-Hughes

A “turning point in the fight against Alzheimer’s”- a new immunotherapy drug, Donanemab, has been trialed and found to reduce clinical decline in people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. Hannah Walton-Hughes reports on this development. 

The drug is shown to slow decline by up to 35%.  

A trial of the drug has just been completed, instrumented by Eli Lilly and Company, involving 1,800 people suffering from early-stage Alzheimer’s Disease. 

The overall slow down was 22.3%

Results from the TRAILBLAZER ALZ-2 trial demonstrated that after seventy-six weeks of taking the drug, people with low or medium levels of tau build-up had their clinical decline slowed by 35.1%.  

These results were then ‘combined’ with people showing varying levels of tau, and the overall slow down was 22.3%. 

Alzheimer’s Society have commented that treatments such as donanemab mark a “new era” in the fight against the disease. They believe that, with the development of other treatments, Alzheimer’s could eventually be likened to other long-term conditions such as diabetes or asthma.  

Donanemab will mean that people suffering from Alzheimer’s could carry on doing day-to-day activities.  

In terms of how it works inside the body, it is not dissimilar to cancer treatments. It makes the immune system attack and remove unwanted/unfamiliar cells or proteins if they are detected. 

Concern about early identification of the disease

In the case of Alzheimer’s this foreign protein is amyloid, which builds up in the brain and kills cells, resulting in the symptoms seen in the disease. 

However, researchers do not believe that donanemab will be effective for people in the moderate or later stages of Alzheimer’s, due to the fact that the amyloid will already have done so much damage. 

David Thomas, Head of policy at Alzheimer’s Research has also expressed concern about the early identification of the disease.  

Alzheimer’s is either detected through a PET scan or by testing spinal fluid. But these scanners are not widely available. 

Mr. Thomas worries that it will be the case of a “postcode lottery”- early diagnosis is key”, and “there needs to be a change in how Dementia is treated as a whole.”

At the moment, only 2% of people are getting diagnosed at an early enough time for donanemab to be effective. 

This new breakthrough comes after the drug lecanemab was also brought to light- it was found to be effective in early Alzheimer’s, reducing memory loss.  

The side effects of donanemab will be looked at when deciding on the availability of the drug. 

The drug could be available as soon as 2025

There were some serious effects during the trial, including brain swelling. Three people died in the donanemab group and one in the placebo group that was used for comparison. These passings were described as “treatment related”.  

Many side effects were also put down to the intravenous drip used during treatment.  

There are hopes that the drug could be available as soon as 2025. 

It needs to be approved by the Medical and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in order for it to be available in the U.K. The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) will need to examine it before it can be made introduced on the NHS.  

The cost of the drug has been raised as a potential concern in terms of approval.  

Alzheimer’s Research has written to Eli Lilly and Company, asking for them to submit the drug for review as soon as possible. 

Hannah Walton-Hughes

Featured image courtesy of Robina Weermeijer via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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