Beginning of the end of Alzheimer’s? New drug slows the disease by a third

The build-up to Dementia Awareness Week this year is unlike any before – donanemab is the second drug in a year to succeed in clinical trials, suggesting an end is in sight for Alzheimer’s. 

The results from the drugs clinical trial, which were announced yesterday, discovered Donanemab slowed cognitive decline by 35% and slowed progression of the condition by 35% to 36% compared with a placebo in 1,182 people with early-stage Alzheimer’s.

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Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia – it starts in the brain many years before symptoms start to show.

This news has been welcomed as according to Alzheimer’s Research UK, one in three people that are born in the UK this year will develop dementia in their lifetime. There are over 900,000 people with dementia in the UK and this is estimated to increase to over one million by 2030 and over 1.6 million by 2050.

Additionally, news from the clinical trial has come after another set of trial results, that were published last year, showing a drug called lecanemab reduced the rate of cognitive decline by 27% in patients with early-onset Alzheimer’s.

‘This could be the beginning of the end of Alzheimer’s disease,’ said Dr Richard Oakley, the Associate Director of Research at the Alzheimer’s Society in the UK. ‘After 20 years with no new Alzheimer’s drugs, we now have two potential new drugs in just 12 months – and for the first time, drugs that seem to slow the progression of disease.’

In patients who were using donanemab, 47% showed no signs of the disease progressing after a year, according to a statement issued by Lilly. In addition, the drug resulted in 40% less decline in the ability to perform daily activities and 39% of patients experienced a lower risk of progressing onto the next stage of the disease compared to those on placebo – the majority of Alzheimer’s patients in clinical trials are placebo-controlled and take the current Food and Administration-approved medications for the disease.

However, despite reporting a vast amount of positive outcomes, the trial also reported side effects.

Brain swelling occurred in 24% of those on donanemab, with 6.1% experiencing symptoms, Lilly said. Brain bleeding occurred in 31.4% of the donanemab group and 13.6% of the placebo group.

Lily also reported the incidence of serious brain swelling in the study was 1.6%, including two deaths attributed to the condition and another spurring from an incident of brain swelling.

‘The treatment effect is modest, as is the case for many first-generation drugs, and there are risks of serious side-effects that need to be fully scrutinised before donenemab can be marketed and used,” said Dr Susan Kohlhaas, the Executive Director of Research and Partnerships at Alzheimer’s Research UK.

But she added the results were still ‘encouraging’ and represented ‘another hugely significant moment for dementia research’.

‘We’re now on the cusp of a first generation of treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, something that many thought impossible only a decade ago,’ she added. ‘People should be really encouraged by this news, which is yet more proof that research can take us ever closer towards a cure.’

This year Dementia Awareness Week will run from 15th until 21st May.

Image: CDC


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