Alzheimer's drug slows disease by 60% hailed as 'turning point'

Alzheimer’s drug made by Eli Lilly that slows early Alzheimer’s by up to 60% hailed as the ‘turning point’ in the fight against the disease

  • It is the second treatment after lecanemab to offer hope to patients with disease
  • Could be available to millions of Americans in just 18 months – in breakthrough 
  • READ MORE: How does donanemab fight Alzheimer’s? When will it be approved?

A drug that can slow early Alzheimer’s by up to 60 per cent has been hailed as the ‘turning point’ in the fight against the disease.

In a ‘defining moment’ for dementia research, results from trials of donanemab found it significantly delayed the worsening of symptoms in people with this type of dementia.

It is the second treatment after lecanemab to offer hope to patients in what experts have hailed ‘the decade of Alzheimer’s’, which could one day see it likened to other long-term conditions such as asthma or diabetes.

Scientists said it also ended the decades-long debate over whether the accumulation of sticky plaques, or amyloid, is at least partly responsible for the degenerative disease.

Donanemab is given to Alzheimer’s patients through an IV infusion once a month. The monoclonal antibody — a man-made version of proteins produced by the body to fight-off harmful substances — travels to the brain . Once inside the organ, donanemab binds to toxic build-ups of amyloid plaque — a hallmark sign of the memory-robbing disease. This prompts immune cells, known as microglia, to clear them

Researchers today unveiled that donanemab slowed cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s by 35 per cent by removing toxic plaques in the brain 

Donanemab stopped mental decline for more than a year in around half of patients, according to the findings presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Amsterdam this afternoon.

Made by Eli Lilly and Company, the US pharmaceutical company announced it had already sought regulatory approval from the FDA and expected to apply in the UK within six months.

It means patients could start being treated with the drug in as little as 18 months.

The drug – given as a monthly infusion– was found to be most effective in under-75s in the earliest stages of disease.

Researchers examined almost 1,800 people with early-stage Alzheimer’s with patients given either donanemab or a dummy drug over 18 months.

Those at the earliest stage of disease with mild cognitive impairment had the greatest benefit, with a 60 per cent slowing of decline compared to placebo.

Millions of US patients stand to benefit 

Regulators gave full approval to lecanemab – also known as Leqembi – last week in a move hailed as a ‘major step forward’ in the fight against the disease. 

Among patients with early Alzheimer’s whose brain scans showed low or medium levels of a protein called tau, the drug was found to slow clinical decline by 35 per cent.

When the results were combined for people who had different levels of this protein, there was a 22.3 per cent slowing in disease progression, according to the findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr Richard Oakley, associate director of research and innovation at Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘This is truly a turning point in the fight against Alzheimer’s and science is proving that it is possible to slow down the disease.

‘Treatments like donanemab are the first steps towards a future where Alzheimer’s disease could be considered a long-term condition alongside diabetes or asthma – people may have to live with it, but they could have treatments that allow them to effectively manage their symptoms and continue to live fulfilled lives.’

The drug works by using the immune system to remove amyloid – toxic plaque build-ups in the brain that stop brain cells communicating.

As well as delaying the worsening of symptoms for between 4.5 to 7.5 months on average, the drug also meant patients could continue to perform daily activities for longer, researchers said.

However, there were some serious side effects such as brain swelling and bleeds experienced among some patients as well as three deaths linked to taking the medication.

Experts said patients will need to be aware of risks of treatment so they can choose whether they take these drugs or not.

Dr Susan Kohlhaas, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said today’s announcement ‘marks another milestone’ following decades of research.

She said: ‘We’re entering a new era where Alzheimer’s disease could become treatable.

‘As a potential first-generation treatment, donanemab’s effects are modest. But these results provide further confirmation that removing amyloid from the brain can change the course of Alzheimer’s, and may help people affected by this devastating disease if they’re treated at the right time.

‘Set against this, it’s clear that donanemab does come with side effects, which for some can be very serious. Regulators will need to balance these benefits and risks before it is given a license for use.’

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