Recent Developments in Treating Alzheimer’s
Currently, more than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s. That number is expected to grow to 28 million by 2050 as our population ages. There is no cure. There are a handful of drugs on the market—Aricept, Namenda and Exelon— that were approved more than a decade ago. They can treat symptoms for a while, but they do not affect the disease itself.
There are, however, some new drugs in the works that aim to clear amyloid proteins out of the brains of Alzheimer’s patients in hopes of slowing the disease. But they are not even close to being a cure or even being on the market. The three drugs highlighted at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference are solanezumab, aducanumab and gantenerumab.
Solanezumab, made by Eli Lilly, was first released in 2012 and didn’t seem to help patients. But developers continued to follow those in the trials and discovered that those who got the drug early seemed to be doing better, while those who got the drug later could not seem to catch up. Test scores showed very modest changes but could add to more days living at home for those treated very early. Lilly has started a phase III clinical trial, the last stage before seeking FDA approval. Results are more than a year away.
Aducanumab, made by Biogen, appears to be clearing the amyloid from the brains of patients and there is some evidence of improving test scores in patients who got the highest doses. Biogen has also started a phase III clinical trial and will test it in people who have very early Alzheimer’s disease or have mild cognitive impairment.
Gantenerumab also failed in tests, but it may be that people were not given enough of it. An analysis did show it was affecting tau protein, but higher doses have caused brain inflammation (which could indicate the drugs are working), headaches, dizziness and, in other drug trials, death.
Researchers want to offer hope, both for patients and for investors so they will continue to support the development of new drugs. But they caution that real noticeable progress in patients is still years and many dollars away. The Alzheimer’s Association is also asking Congress to fund more government research.