A drug to slow Alzheimer’s disease will be available within a decade and could eventually be given like statins to millions of people in middle-age, experts predict.
People would have to be tested for early signs of the disease in a wide national screening programme, scientists said.
The dementia world received a massive blow last week when the leading contender to become the first effective treatment for Alzheimer’s was shown to have failed in trials.
But Britain’s leading dementia scientists said they were confident another drug would emerge in time to meet a pledge, made two years ago by David Cameron, that a treatment for Alzheimer’s would be available by 2025.
Britain’s leading dementia scientists said they were confident a drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease would be made available by 2025
The former Prime Minister, speaking in 2013, promised to increase funding for research, and pledged a new drug would be developed to ‘slow down the onset of dementia or even deliver a cure by 2025’.
That promise was cast into doubt when solanezumab – the brightest hope for dementia – was last week shown to make no clinical difference to Alzheimer’s patients after a long trial.
More than £8 billion was wiped off the stock market value of Eli Lilly and Company, the pharmaceutical firm behind the drug, and other dementia drug companies also saw their share prices slide.
But Professor John Hardy, a neuroscientist at University College London and one of the world’s leading dementia experts, said yesterday: ‘I’m optimistic for a disease modifying treatment – but not a cure – by 2025. I think that is realistic.
‘This is one of the few David Cameron promises that I think is likely to be still on the road.’
He said until now most drugs have been tested on patients who already have Alzheimer’s, which may be too late.
Instead, he said, they probably should be taken in the same way that people take statins to ward off the risk of heart disease, years before symptoms appear.
Professor Hardy, who pioneered the theory that Alzheimer’s is caused by plaques of amyloid proteins in the brain, said: ‘I take statins every morning.
People would have to be tested for early signs of the disease in a wide national screening programme to get access to the drug, experts said (stock)
‘You take statins to reduce your cholesterol, to make sure a stroke is less likely, but you don’t take it acutely during a stroke.
‘It is possible that this type of analogy holds true in Alzheimer’s disease.’
An estimated 850,000 people in the UK have some form of dementia, and of those 500,000 suffer from Alzheimer’s.
Once drugs are available to treat Alzheimer’s, testing to find those at risk would be vital, scientists said.
Asked whether a widespread national screening was likely, Professor Nick Fox, also of University College London, said: ‘Definitely. If we have something that really makes a difference and really slows onset there will be a very strong case for screening.
‘First we have to show benefit, then we will be working out if we can give it earlier.
‘Alzheimer’s progression seems to start 10 to 20 years before symptoms. So giving drugs at a mild to moderate stage is a bit like giving treatments for cancer when they are already in the hospice.’
Professor Hardy added: ‘I was disappointed when solanezumab didn’t work. My concern is that is was given too late. We now know amyloid deposition starts a long time before the disease symptoms, and you could ask whether it was appropriate for a later stage.
EXERCISE 4 TIMES A WEEK TO PREVENT ALZHEIMER’S
Exercising at least four times a week sharpens all areas of your brain – drastically cutting your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, research earlier this week revealed.
Using a new MRI technique, US scientists found adults with mild cognitive impairment who exercised four times a week over a six-month period experienced an increase in brain volume.
Adults who participated in aerobic exercise experienced greater gains than those who just stretched.
‘If one is going to attack amyloid then we need to attack earlier.’
And he said if drugs were shown to have worked, millions of people without any symptoms would want the drugs – in the same way that millions take statins before any signs of heart disease.
‘I think the pressure will be unstoppable,’ Professor Hardy added.
Dr David Reynolds, chief scientific officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said there were several drugs that could prove successful.
He said: ‘We have several more shots on goal before 2025, in terms of other [drugs] that are in late-stage clinical trials.
‘The first of those to readout their phase three results are not for another couple of years, but there will be information coming out about the progress of those trials.
‘I am confident that we will see disease modifying treatments before 2025.’
Professor Fox added: ‘We already have evidence, after more than 100 years of waiting, of some effects on brain pathology.
‘Will that transfer into meaningful clinical benefit, with a big trial before 2025? Yes I think so. But that is the huge challenge we have ahead of us.’