The results of a highly-anticipated early-stage trial into a new drug aimed at treating Alzheimer's disease have been announced by the pharmaceutical company Biogen Idec.
The drug, known as aducanumab, was shown to slow the progression of memory loss in people who had the early signs of the condition. The announcement was made today (20 March 2015) at the 12th International Conference on Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Diseases and Related Neurological Disorders in Nice, France.
Aducanumab is a therapy that was developed to target the Alzheimer's hallmark protein amyloid, which is present in the brain cells of people with the disease. This small, early-stage trial was to test whether the drug was suitable for use in human participants and did not produce any serious side-effects.
The trial included 166 volunteers who had early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. The participants were given either an inactive drug or aducanumab at one of several doses. The level of the amyloid protein present in their brain cells was then measured over a period of 54 weeks.
The trial found that, after 26 weeks of taking the drug, the participants who had been given a higher dosage of aducanumab had a reduced amount of the amyloid protein present in their brain cells. The levels of amyloid present were reduced further when measurements were taken at 54 weeks. The volunteers were also tested for memory problems and the trial found that those on the higher doses of the drug had a slower decline in their memory than those who took the inactive drug.
However, the trial also found that the higher doses of the drug were more likely to produce side-effects in the volunteers. The most serious of these was swelling on the brain. Those who experienced these side-effects were placed on a lower dose of the drug and were able to continue with the trial.
The next step for testing this treatment is to trial it on a larger group of volunteers. These trials are set to begin later this year.
Dr James Pickett, Head of Research at the Alzheimer's Society, said:
'It's great to have positive news about a potential new treatment for Alzheimer's disease. There is a huge need for new drugs given there are so few medicines currently available.
'However, this was a small, early-stage trial and a larger trial is needed to confirm whether this drug will help people with the disease. The aim of this study was to test if the drug was safe for use. The drug wasn't devoid of side effects, most notably swelling in the brain, but it appears this can be managed with lower doses. A key question for the next stage of testing will be if the drug can be given at a high enough dose to slow the progression of Alzheimer's with an acceptable number of side effects.
'This type of drug works by targeting amyloid, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease. In the past we have seen similar drugs developed which, despite showing early promise, failed in late-stage clinical trials. Alzheimer's Society is dedicated to finding new treatments for the disease, including investigating whether existing drugs can be used to treat Alzheimer's. This way the side-effects of the drugs are known and larger trials can get underway sooner.'