An experimental drug may have led researchers one step closer to preventing Alzheimer’s disease. The drug is called ‘aducanumab’ and was developed by Biogen, a pharmaceutical company based in Massachusetts who also funded the study; results were published on Wednesday on Nature.com.
In patients with Alzheimer’s, scientists have found an abnormal structure called ‘plaques’ in their brains, which they believe damage and kill nerve cells. Although these structures are found in most aging brains, they are not as abundant as those with early onset Alzheimer’s. The new drug targets, destroys and removes plaques, which are toxic proteins that lump together and build up in the brain. Researchers are optimistic yet cautious due to the small size of the trial,. However, neurologist and co-author of the study Stephen Salloway, said this is the best news on Alzheimer’s in 25 years.
The study consists of 165 people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s who received an intravenous dose of the drug or placebo monthly; 103 of the study received varying doses of the drug. PET scans showed patients receiving the highest dosage had the largest reduction while those receiving the placebo remained relatively the same. Senior author of the paper, Alfred Sandrock, said they are “pretty certain of the fact that the antibody reduces the amyloid plaques and in some way gets rid of the majority of it.” Researchers also found patients showed slower rates of cognitive decline. Brain swelling is one side effect of the drug, but Salloway suggested regular brain scans to monitor swelling which would alert doctors if treatment was necessary.
Roger Nitsch, a researcher for the paper and professor at Zurich University, said the “effect size of this drug is unprecedented” compared to previous studies. There are treatments that help to alleviate some symptoms, however there is not treatment able to slow the progression or reverse the disease. Eric M. Reiman, executive director of the Banner of Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix, said the trial is too small to prove the drug works and previous studies have looked promising but ended in failure. That said, if the results are proven, aducanumab could be a “game-changer” in preventing Alzheimer’s. Larger trial studies are planned to continue through 2020.
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