New Alzheimer's drug may be 'game changer'
The first ever drug for Alzheimer's disease is finally on the horizon after scientists proved they can clear the sticky plaques from the brain which cause dementia and halt mental decline.
The breakthrough was hailed as the 'best news' in dementia research for 25 years and a potential 'game changer' for people with Alzheimer's.
Scientists were amazed to find that patients treated with the highest dose of the antibody drug aducanumab saw an almost complete clearance of the amyloid plaques which prevent brain cells communicating, leading to irreversible memory loss and cognitive decline.
These findings could be a 'game changer' if the effects on memory decline can be confirmed in more extensive follow-on studies.
Crucially they also found that, after six months into the treatment, patients stopped deteriorating compared to those taking a placebo, suggesting that their dementia had been halted.
If shown to be effective in larger trials, the first drug to prevent dementia could be available in just a few years.
"The results of this clinical study make us optimistic that we can potentially make a great step forward in treating Alzheimer's disease," said Professor Roger Nitsch, at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Zurich.
"In the high-dose group the amyloid has almost completely disappeared. The effect of this drug is unprecedented," he said.
"Despite it being a small sample there appeared to be a slowing of cognitive decline and functional decline.
"The group with a high degree of amyloid removal were basically stable. If we could reproduce this it would be terrific."
Dr Alfred Sandrock, from the Massachusetts-based biotech company Biogen, which is hoping to bring the drug to market, said: "This is the best news that we have had in our 25 years and it brings new hope to patients with this disease."
The most common kind of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, but until now scientists have argued over the cause and, despite more than 400 drug trials, nothing has been shown to combat the disease.
The last Alzheimer's drug licensed in the UK became available more than a decade ago. Current treatments can reduce symptoms to some extent, but doctors have nothing that can halt or slow progression of the disease.
Not only does the new study suggest a treatment for the disease, but shows that the build-up of amyloid plaque in the brain is likely to be to blame.
Aducanumab is a treatment made up of antibodies - tiny y-shaped proteins which latch on to dangerous substances in the body like flags, showing the immune system what to clear away.
Scientists tested various human immune cells with amyloid in a lab until they found one which produced an antibody which broke up the plaques. They then cloned it in large numbers for the new therapy, which is given intravenously just once a month.
In the trial, which was reported in the journal 'Nature', scientists tested varying levels of the drug over a year, as well as giving one group a placebo.
The drug is likely to be most effective for patients in the very earliest stages of Alzheimer's disease.