Wednesday 18 September 2019

Arthritis drug could potentially slow the progress of Alzheimer's disease - study

A cross section of a normal brain, right, and one of a brain damaged by advanced Alzheimer's disease. (AP Photo/Merck & Co., File)
A cross section of a normal brain, right, and one of a brain damaged by advanced Alzheimer's disease. (AP Photo/Merck & Co., File)

A drug commonly used to treat arthritis could potentially slow the progress of Alzheimer's disease, an academic study has found.

Scientists at the University of Southampton conducted a small control study with a group of 41 patients exhibiting mild or moderate Alzheimer's, giving them either the anti-inflammatory drug Etanercept or a placebo every week over a period of six months.

Each patient was then assessed for memory function, efficiency of day-to-day activities and behaviour and the symptoms of those who had taken the Etanercept did not get any worse, while those on the placebo showed signs of decline.

Professor Clive Holmes, who led the study and presented the results at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Denmark today said the results were better than his team expected but would need to be tested on a larger scale.

He said: "We have shown that using Etanercept in patients who have Alzheimer's disease would be safe and has positive outcomes after six months. However this is a small study and should now be tested in a larger clinical trial."

The drug, trade name Enbrel, blocks a protein in the body called tumor necrosis factor (TNF) which forms part of the body's defences against diseases and injuries. But Professor Holmes' team have shown Alzheimer's patients with high levels of TNF do worse than those with low levels.

Professor Holmes said: "A large number of anti-inflammatory approaches have been tried in patients with established Alzheimer's, but with little evidence of efficacy.

"There are very few studies that have come out with everything moving in the right direction. We have shown that a targeted approach against TNF offers protection against the development of the disease.

"Our study was small and lasted for six months so it needs to be developed further, however our projections suggest that the benefits would continue. This now needs to be tested."

Charity Alzheimer's Research UK estimate about 820,00 people are affected by dementia in the UK, costing the economy £23 billion a year.

Dr Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer's Research UK also warned more testing would need to be done.

"After many years of research into the role of the immune system in Alzheimer's, led by the team in Southampton, it's promising to see a compound targeting this process showing encouraging early results in people," he said.

"However, we know that clinical trials have a high failure rate and so we need to see Etanercept tested further in larger and longer trials in Alzheimer's disease."

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