End of Alzheimer's? Scientists hail new dementia drug that slows disease by a third

3 May 2023, 23:33 | Updated: 4 May 2023, 06:23

Scientists have hailed a 'hugely significant' new drug
Scientists have hailed a 'hugely significant' new drug. Picture: Getty/Alamy

By Kit Heren

The world is “on the cusp of a first generation of treatments for Alzheimer’s disease”, experts have said, as a new drug was found to slow cognitive and functional decline.

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The drug donanemab, made by Eli Lilly and Company, slowed decline by 35% to 36% in a late-stage phase 3 clinical trial, the company said.

Donanemab appeared to slow the decline associated with Alzheimer’s compared with placebo in 1,182 people with early-stage disease based on those with intermediate levels of a protein known as tau.

The drug also resulted in 40% less decline in the ability to perform activities of daily living, according to the firm.

Almost half (47%) of those on donanemab had no clinical progression of disease at one year compared with 29% on placebo (defined as no decline in the commonly-used Clinical Dementia Rating Scale Sum of Boxes score).

Scientists are 'excited' about the possibilities presented by the new drug for treating people with Alzheimers
Scientists are 'excited' about the possibilities presented by the new drug for treating people with Alzheimer's. Picture: Alamy

Furthermore, participants on donanemab experienced a 39% lower risk of progressing to the next stage of disease compared to placebo, according to Eli Lilly.

In those patients receiving donanemab, brain swelling, a known side effect of drugs of this type, occurred in 24% of the participants, with 6.1% experiencing symptoms.

Brain bleeding occurred in 31.4% of the donanemab group and 13.6% of the placebo group.Lilly said the incidence of serious brain swelling in the donanemab study was 1.6%, including two participants whose deaths were attributed to the condition and a third who died after an incident of serious brain swelling.

It said most cases of swelling or bleeds were “mild to moderate” and responded to treatment.

Some 850,000 people in the UK have Alzheimers
Some 850,000 people in the UK have Alzheimers. Picture: Getty

Daniel Skovronsky, Eli Lilly’s chief scientific and medical officer, said: "This is the first phase 3 trial of any investigational medicine for Alzheimer’s disease to deliver 35% slowing of clinical and functional decline."

Dr Richard Oakley, associate director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society in the UK, said: “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. This could be the beginning of the end of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Based on today’s early results, donanemab appears to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s symptoms by 36% (as compared with 27% of last year’s breakthrough drug lecanemab).

"Promisingly, the trial also demonstrated a 40% slowing in decline of everyday activities such as driving, doing hobbies and managing finances.

"While we’ve seen lecanemab could slow progression by over seven months, we’ll need to see the full results to know if donanemab could do the same or even better."

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Dr Susan Kolhaas, executive director of research and partnerships at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “This is incredibly encouraging, and another hugely significant moment for dementia research.

“A second drug for Alzheimer’s has been shown to slow people’s cognitive decline in a rigorous phase 3 trial. 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.

Read more: New Alzheimer's drug Lecanemab hailed as ‘historic’ but questions remain about side effects and impact of use

Read more: New Alzheimer's drug Lecanemab hailed as ‘historic’ but questions remain about side effects and impact of use

"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 donanemab can be marketed and used.

"However, this news underlines the urgency of preparing the NHS to make these treatments available should regulators deem them safe and effective.

"People should be really encouraged by this news, which is yet more proof that research can take us ever closer towards a cure.”

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