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New Alzheimer's Drug

17 July 2023

A new drug - donanemab made by Eli Lilly - is being hailed as a turning point in the fight against Alzheimer's, after a global trial confirms it slows cognitive decline.

The antibody medicine helps in the early stages of the disease by clearing a protein that builds up in the brains of people with this type of dementia. Although not a cure, charities say the results imark a new era where Alzheimer's can be treated. The UK's drugs watchdog has started assessing it for possible NHS use.

It works in Alzheimer's disease, not in other types of dementia, such as vascular dementia. In the trials, it appears to have slowed the pace of the disease by about a third, allowing people to retain more of their day-to-day lives and tasks, such as making meals and enjoying a hobby.

In the donanemab trial, researchers examined 1,736 people aged 60 to 85 with early-stage Alzheimer's. Over 18 months, half of them received a monthly infusion of the treatment and the other half were given a placebo. The findings show:

  • The drug seems to have a meaningful benefit, at least for some patients

  • Those who had earlier disease and less brain amyloid at baseline derived greater benefit, in terms of clearance seen on brain scans

  • Those given the drug also retained more of their day-to-day lives such as being able to discuss current events, answer the phone or pursue hobbies

  • The pace of the disease, judged by what people could still do day-to-day, was slowed by about 20-30% overall - and by 30-40% in a set of patients who researchers thought more likely to respond

  • There were significant side-effects and patients will need to be aware of risks of treatment

  • Half of patients on donanemab were able to stop the treatment after a year, because it had cleared sufficient brain deposits

The drug's effects may be modest, but the results provide further confirmation that removing amyloid from the brain may change the course of Alzheimer's, and help people affected by this devastating disease if they're treated at the right time, say experts.

Visit Alzheimer's Society to learn more about the condition >

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