An elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
An injection that could transform millions of lives by tackling Alzheimer’s in its earliest stages is being tested on British patients.
Some 50 men and women with mild memory problems will be given monthly injections of a drug described as their best chance of warding off the disease.
The first jabs have just been given and there is still time for volunteers to join the trial. It could be in widespread use in five years.
Unlike other drugs, which are given once dementia has taken hold, the new medication is designed to set to work when symptoms are confined to slight memory lapses.
The drug, called gantenerumab, is not expected to be a cure, but slowing the development of dementia would allow people to live normally for longer, delaying the time when they have to give up work and perhaps go into care.
Experts say this would be ‘life-changing’, and estimate that delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s by five years could halve the number who die with the condition, currently a third of over-65s.
Dr Richard Perry, the Alzheimer’s expert leading one of the British trials, said: ‘There is no guarantee but this is the best chance of a medication that is going to affect the underlying condition at the earliest stage.’
Current drugs tackle the symptoms of Alzheimer’s rather than the underlying damage, and are given once it has taken hold. They do not work for everyone and the effects wear off after time.
In contrast gantenerumab, made by Roche, is designed to be given up to four years before the disease has been diagnosed.
It is aimed at people with memory problems that have caused them concern but who are still able to go about their day-to-day lives.
It contains an antibody that homes in on amyloid, the toxic protein that clogs the brain in Alzheimer’s, and speeds up its clearance from the body.
In small-scale early trials on men and women who already had Alzheimer’s, it cut the amount of amyloid in the brain by up to a third in just six months, the journal Archives of Neurology reports.
It is hoped that giving it earlier would be even more effective and the drug is now being tested on 360 people in 15 countries with mild memory problems that are expected to progress to dementia.
To take part in the trial, people must be aged between 50 and 89 and have memory problems that are causing them concern.
A lumbar puncture will confirm that amyloid is building up in their system, although they have yet to be diagnosed with dementia.
Those taking part in the Scarlet Road Study trial will be given gantenerumab every month for two years, or a dummy drug.
Dr Perry, a consultant neurologist at London’s Charing Cross Hospital and at the Re:Cognition Health memory clinic, said: ‘We know that the amyloid is there for many years beforehand and it is thought that if you are going to reduce the amounts to have an effect, we have got to do that before people have significant damage.’
Barbara Sahakian, a professor at Cambridge University’s psychiatry department, said she was ‘thrilled’ by the launch of the trial.
She said: ‘The implications are far-reaching.
‘On a personal level, being able to stay at work and maintain your family life and all your hobbies and interests would be just fabulous.
‘There are also great implications for relatives and for society.
‘Institutional care is extremely expensive and if we had effective treatments, we could use that money in a different way.’
Dr Marie Janson of Alzheimer’s Research UK said: ‘Although research into gantenerumab is still in its early phases, initial results have looked promising.’
Via Daily Mail