Breakthrough in Alzheimer's fight with trial results on drug
A turning point in the fight against Alzheimer's may have been reached with the first trial evidence that progression of the disease can be held back.
The experimental drug solanezumab reduced mental decline by 34pc in a group of patients.
It is the first time an Alzheimer's drug has been shown to have a 'disease modifying' effect rather than merely alleviating symptoms.
The findings offer a glimmer of hope to victims of the devastating disease, but only patients with mild Alzheimer's who started treatment early experienced the beneficial effect over a period of three-and-a-half years.
Experts have called the new findings "encouraging" and "exciting", while at the same time urging caution.
The results were presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Washington DC, America, where another drug was shown to shrink protein deposits in the brain linked to Alzheimer's.
Again the effect was seen in people at an early stage of the disease. An interim study found that the drug aducanumab reduced the size of beta amyloid plaques.
Both drugs are laboratory-made antibodies that target specific proteins, in this case sticky clumps of beta amyloid.
"The findings strongly suggest that targeting people with these antibody treatments is the best way to slow or stop Alzheimer's," said Dr Doug Brown, head of research at the UK Alzheimer's Society.
"These drugs are able to reduce the plaques of amyloid that build up in the brain, and now we have seen the first hints that doing this early enough may slow disease progression.
"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."
One woman who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's at the age of 58 has said she is "quietly optimistic" about the potential breakthrough drug.
Wendy Mitchell, now 59, said she was "devastated" to be diagnosed with the disease in July 2014, and has noticed her memory deteriorate since then.
"We haven't had any breakthroughs for 19 years," said the mother of two, from York.
"We've been waiting a long time for a new treatment or development. I'm quietly optimistic, but not naive enough to think it will necessarily benefit me.
"The results from the final trials are still 18 months away and I don't know what state my brain will be in by then.
"But the news is really promising and it brings me hope for my daughters and anyone else, as it could bring an end to the inevitably that a diagnosis brings with it."
Commenting on the solanezumab trial, Dr Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: "The results provide encouraging evidence that solanezumab could indeed be acting on the disease processes that drive Alzheimer's.
"It will be important for longer trials to explore whether this treatment could produce greater benefits in the long term."