According to the Alzheimer’s Society, about 44 million people suffer from dementia across the globe. By 2050, 135 million people are predicted to develop the slow-acting, deadly disease.
Research shows that a new drug could have the potential to delay the development rate of Alzheimer’s disease by about one-third. The drug, called solanezumab, may be able to keep dying brain cells alive in the early stages of the disease.
Pharmaceutical manufacturer Eli Lilly and Company released the data from recent drug trials at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. The results are promising, but need to be replicated in order to confirm the drug will be successful. A thorough report of additional trials is set to be completed next year.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s is a chronic neurodegenerative disorder and one of the most common brain diseases. A progressive form of dementia, it destroys a person’s thinking, language, judgement and problem solving skills as time passes. The most frightening effect of Alzheimer’s is its ability to completely devour the human memory.
The disease hits much later in life, with only 4 percent of people developing dementia before the age of 65. Alzheimer’s significantly impacts intellectual and social skills. When the disease has reached its most advanced stage, it becomes impossible to function normally without the assistance of a caregiver. A full list of symptoms can be found here.
Because researchers aren’t entirely sure of what causes it, Alzheimer’s is extremely difficult to treat.
Alzheimer’s Drug: History and How it works
Solanezumab has been in the works for quite some time. In 2012, an 18-month trial proved that the drug was unsuccessful in delaying cell death. But after reanalyzing the data, researchers noticed the drug had begun to work in patients with a milder, early form of the disease.
The drug is a monoclonal antibody that acts on sticky proteins called amyloids. Researchers believe these proteins form between nerve cells and damage the cell’s line of connection to other cells, ultimately leading to cell death.
Solanezumab slowed the progression of the disease about 34 percent. Researchers started a new study in patients with early-onset Alzheimer’s, and also asked about 1,000 early-stage patients from the original study to continue taking the drug for 2 years.
The results show the amount of brain cell decline that normally takes 18 months would take 24 months when the drug is continually used over time. Patients from the original study, who were taking the drug for the longest amount of time, scored better on tests that measured cognitive functioning.
A Promising Future
Currently, the only treatments available assist with managing the symptoms of dementia, but they do not have the ability to slow the progression of the disease. Drugs like Aricept can help the dying brain cells function, but patient’s symptoms will continue to worsen over time.
Other pharmaceutical companies are also working on drugs to treat, manage or cure Alzheimer’s disease. Roche’s candidate Gantenerumab is currently being tested for a second time with higher doses in two large studies, and Biogen’s drug aducanumab is being tested in a large late-stage study.
If Solanezumab or another treatment is successful in slowing the progression rate of Alzheimer’s, patients would be able to remain in the early stages of the disease before its symptoms become serious and unmanageable. Memories would be intact, and families would have extended time with their loved ones.
There is a serious need for a drug to treat Alzheimer’s. Scientists remain hopeful that Solanezumab will lead to the long-awaited breakthrough, but it is unlikely that the medical community will rejoice until the results of next year’s trials are released.