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A hope for Alzheimer’s? PDF Print Email

There may be a treatment available that can help with sufferer’s of Alzheimer’s Disease and delay their decline.  Scientists have been searching for a treatment that can help for a long time and have experienced a great deal of frustration however, a trial has shown some promising results in slowing the advance of the disease.  While the impact was mild the drug, solanezumab, appears to target the disease itself rather than just the symptoms.  If the results are confirmed in another trial underway and due to be released in 18 months solanezumab will be the first drug to achieve this.


The drug has been developed by the company Eli Lilly and targets proteins that form plaques which affect the connections between brain cells and are thought to be a significant underlying cause of Alzheimer’s.

Data from the drug company suggests solanezumab can slow the progress of dementia by about a third.

The results of the trial are being met with cautious optimism while the new trial which will report next year should show a more definitive outcome.

Current medication can only manage the symptoms of dementia by trying to keep the dying brain cells functioning.  Solanezumab may be able to keep the brain cells that normally die in Alzheimer’s alive.

It is thought the formation of sticky plaques of amyloid between nerve cells causes the damage that leads to brain cell death.

The company asked over 1,000 patients with mild Alzheimer's in an original trial that was thought not to have been successful to continue taking the drug for another two years and positive results from this were presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference.

They show those taking the drugs the longest had the most benefit.


The results are not conclusive and a definite cure is still some way off however, the evidence should be greeted as potentially encouraging.

There is currently no treatment that can slow down dementia but if there was it would drastically change how the disease is managed.  Sufferers would still deteriorate but spend longer in the milder, more manageable phase rather than needing constant care.

After many disappointments over the years of research the results of further trials next year are highly anticipated with the hope this is the breakthrough hoped for.

“The results provide encouraging evidence that solanezumab could indeed be acting on the disease processes that drive Alzheimer’s,” said Dr Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK. “Although the effect represents a small improvement for people experiencing mild symptoms, it will be important for longer trials to explore whether this treatment could produce greater benefits in the long-term.”

He said that results from the next trial of 2,100 patients, a phase III study – the last step before a drug can be submitted for regulatory approval – would be awaited with “great interest”.

However, it could be years before solanezumab reaches the market.

Other leading Alzheimer’s scientists have welcomed the study results, but all have also urged caution. Richard Morris, professor of neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh said he thought the solanezumab findings “likely to be significant” but added that a definitive assessment could not be given until after the next trial.

“I am cautiously optimistic,” he said. “From the perspective of the audience, they should be too. This is not a mouse study, it’s a people study and that matters.”

However, Dr Doug Brown, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society said there was now a strong suggestion that treating people at the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s with antibody treatments could be “the best way to slow or stop Alzheimer’s disease”.

“After a decade of no new therapies for dementia, today’s news is an exciting step forward,” he said. “We will have to wait for the ongoing trials to finish to know the full risks and benefits of these drugs. If they are positive, these drugs will be the first identified to directly interfere with the disease process and slow progression of Alzheimer’s.”

Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is one of the biggest challenges facing modern healthcare. Largely driven by an increasing, ageing population there are already thought to be 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, and 36m worldwide. This figure is expected to double every 20 years.