Over the years, researchers and pharmaceutical companies have developed treatments to help manage symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, including memory loss and impaired judgment.
However, a major limitation of currently available treatments is that they do not prevent nor slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.
Currently, there are five prescription drugs available for Alzheimer’s symptom management. These drugs can help improve the quality of life of individuals living with the disease, as well as the lives of their caregivers.
Some individuals taking them have demonstrated memory improvements and others show slowing of decline. However, these drugs cannot slow disease progression, and they become less effective as a person’s Alzheimer’s gets worse.
A new Alzheimer’s drug has not been approved by the FDA in over a decade. This is, in part, because scientists have yet to fully demystify the causes of the disease itself.
Fortunately, researchers have not given up in this endeavor. They hope to develop drugs that target the biological processes underlying the disease, rather than only managing symptoms.
Eli Lilly’s New Phase II Clinical Trial
Initial findings from one new study offer a glimmer of hope.
A drug developed by the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly successfully cleared the toxic plaques of amyloid protein that gum up the brain in persons with Alzheimer’s disease.
Over the course of the clinical trial, a group of 272 participants with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s received infusions of the experimental drug every four weeks.
Participants who received the treatment experienced cognitive decline at a rate 32% slower than participants who received a placebo. After 6-12 months, the amyloid plaques did not return.
The principal investigator of the Brain Health Registry, Dr. Michael Weiner, is quoted in a January 11th New York Times article about the trial, stating that the new drug is “big news. [It] holds out hope for patients and their families.” However, Dr. Weiner also emphasizes that the findings from this trial are preliminary and need to be replicated in a larger population.
This study helps support the so-called “Amyloid Hypothesis” of Alzheimer’s, which proposes that Alzheimer’s is closely tied to amyloid protein accumulation in the brain.
The findings from the Lilly trial are likely to increase development of other treatments against amyloid, Dr. Weiner said.
One day, we can hope for an effective treatment, perhaps even a simple pill to cure Alzheimer’s. In the meantime, it’s important to take measures in everyday life to stay healthy, avoid smoking, control blood pressure, and exercise regularly.