New drug shows promise in treating mild Alzheimer’s dementia

The drug is formulated to target amyloid, a protein that accumulates in the brain and forms plaques that can compromise nerve cells. Getty Images

The annual Alzheimer’s Association International Conference revealed a new drug has shown promising results in treating those with mild Alzheimer’s dementia, an illness that has until now proven almost impossible to treat with medication.

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The drug, known as BAN2401, targets amyloid, a protein that accumulates in the brain and forms plaques that can compromise nerve cells. It was shown to be successful in slowing the progression of mild cognitive impairment in 856 patients with early Alzheimer’s.

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“This is the first late-stage, anti-amyloid antibody study to successfully achieve statistically significant results at 18 months, further validating the amyloid hypothesis,” Lynn Kramer, chief clinical officer and chief medical officer with the Neurology Business Group at Eisai, which developed the drug along with Biogen, said according to the Washington Post.

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This is especially exciting as it could be the first drug used to treat the actual disease rather than merely addressing its symptoms. In addition, the fact that it works by reducing amyloid plaque buildup means it could slow down the progression of the disease, and there’s hope that early treatment could even help people avoid the devastating effects of memory loss and cognitive decline.

“I think it’s a big deal, because we’ve definitely had some disappointments in Alzheimer’s drug development lately, so I think we just need some positive news,” James Hendrix, director of global science initiatives at the Alzheimer’s Association, said. “We’re obviously very hopeful.”

These results are similar to another drug that targets amyloid that was first tested two years ago. Aducanumab is being developed and tested by the same two companies behind BAN2401, and final results from their studies are expected in 2020. However, Kramer said that they will work to make BAN2401 (whose trial was much larger) available to patients as soon as possible.

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Time notes that news on the Alzheimer’s drug front hasn’t been promising in 2018, with AstraZeneca PLC, Pfizer and Merck all terminating trials or research in the field.

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According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, there are currently 564,000 Canadians living with dementia (of which Alzheimer’s is the most common form), and that number is expected to skyrocket to 937,000 in the next 15 years. The annual cost to Canadians to care for those living with dementia is estimated at $10.4 billion.

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