Exciting new advances in science show promise in improving the treatment of Alzheimer’s, but as yet, not a cure. Researchers are adamant that findings are significant; however, it will be some time before the new drugs become available to the public.
Dementia is a group of symptoms, the most common cause of which is Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia currently affects approximately 343,000 people in Australia. Without a major medical breakthrough, this figure is expected to grow to more than 900,000 by 2050. In the US, this figure could be as many as 28 million cases by 2050.
Over the last decade, a handful of drugs has been released on the market, including Aricept, Namenda and Exelon, all of which help with the symptoms, but not the disease itself.
Research into Alzheimer’s continues to take a lot of time and a lot of money, prompting the major Alzheimer’s research agencies worldwide to continually seek more research funding from governments and other sources.
New drugs offering new possibilities in treatment
Trials are being undertaken on three experimental drugs that use immune fighters known as ‘monoclonal antibodies’ that help clear amyloid – a brain clogging protein. These drugs are proving to only be effective if patients are treated at extremely early stages of the disease before the brain becomes too damaged.
These new medications won’t be available any time soon, but researchers comment that the positive outcomes identified so far represent substantially positive hope for the future. At the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, held in July 2015 in the US, three drugs were highlighted: solanezumab, aducanumab and gantenerumab. Now, if you’ve happened to notice the “mab” at the end of each name, this references the monoclonal antibody (mAb) that attacks the problematic protein.
For those closely following medications for Alzheimer’s, you may be aware that pharmaceutical giant Lilly introduced solanezumab in 2012, but with disappointing results. Despite this, researchers continued to study the drug to see if there was any way of increasing its efficacy. In time, they did find positive news. Individuals receiving the drug at the earliest stages of their disease seem to do much better than those who received it when the disease had progressed.
“We should think about this drug as slowing progression of an underlying disease,” said Dr Paul Aisen, director of the Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute at the University of Southern California.
Positive changes from this drug are still not dramatic, though. Although improved cognitive measures may be found, this won’t have any effect on day-to-day life for sufferers. Researchers are keen to point out that the changes are modest and for the chance of any positive effect, subjects must be treated as early as possible.
Aducanumab is also successful in clearing the amyloid protein from the brains. Researchers have found through experimentation that higher doses are more effective.
Care will need to be taken when experimenting with dosages, though. Previous analysis has shown that high doses may affect a protein called ‘tau’, which some researchers believe can even cause Alzheimer’s and may cause brain cell damage.
Closest to possible approval is aducanumab, made by Biogen. This pharmaceutical company is taking the drug into a phase III study, which is the last stage required before submission for approval by the US Food and Drug Administration. It will be tested in people with early Alzheimer’s who have only ‘mild cognitive impairment’, memory and thinking changes that may lead to Alzheimer’s.
The future for Alzheimer’s treatment
The verdict is still out on what causes Alzheimer’s, with researchers and experts predicting that no single drug will prove to be the cure. Similar to the AIDS virus and cancer, they envisage that a combination of drugs will be required to help prevent and to limit the progression of the disease. For researchers to move closer to identifying drugs for prevention, treatment or a cure, a lot of time and a lot of money will be required. With each new study, we move closer to eventually finding a cure. There is always hope.
Sage Institute of Aged Care – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.
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