Drug to Halt Alzheimer’s Disease Hailed Success
Sufferers from the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease may have been given a reprieve today as scientists have revealed a new drug that could potentially halt the symptoms for up to three years. Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College, in New York, tested intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) – a treatment that is currently given to people with immune deficiencies – in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Studies so far have shown that it holds back the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, such as memory loss, confusion, dementia and the inability to carry out daily basic tasks. The typical treatment available to people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease is to only treat the symptoms for around six months. In tests and trials for this new treatment, which is being called the IVIG vaccine, patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease were given an injection of the drug every two weeks for the last three years and their symptoms have not progressed any further.
Alzheimer’s is caused when plaques and tangles form in the brain which distort the messages sent between the synapses. These plaques are formed by amyloid proteins that build up and electrical or chemical signals from the brain cannot get through the plaque. This new vaccine targets these amyloid deposits by telling the immune system not to make any more. Professor Clive Ballard, director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society said, “This is probably the most exciting drug (for Alzheimer’s) we know about, that is currently in the late stages of research. We now know it is safe but the real test will be whether these initial promising results can be replicated in larger groups. One in three people over 65 will develop dementia. While finding a cure is the Holy Grail of dementia research, it is also vital that we continue to fund studies like these if we are to develop more treatments to help people to live well with the condition.”
Indeed, the group tested is small, with some 24 participants in a phase two trial. Carried out by manufacturers Baxter, who say that they will have to test on hundreds more patients before the drug can be licensed and available for public use. This will take several years and then the trials will go onto phase three testing which involves safety checks. At present there are only four drugs available for people suffering from Alzheimer’s and they include Aricept, Exelon and Reminyl. These have been shown to halt the symptoms of the disease for around six months but not any longer. These are given to people who are suffering mild to medium symptoms. For those whose symptoms are more advanced, they are given Exiba. All these drugs are available from the NHS. Response to the news of the new drug has been cautious. Dr Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “This small study has turned up some interesting results, but it’s important to note that there were not enough people in this trial for us to draw any firm conclusions from the findings. One limitation of this study was that after the initial six-month trial, all the participants received the same treatment, meaning the researchers did not have a control group to provide a comparison for their results. We would need to see results from large-scale clinical trials to tell whether this treatment has the potential to help people with Alzheimer’s disease.”
The new vaccine IVIG which is short for intravenous immunoglobin, has so far only been given to sufferers who are in the early stages of the disease. So it is not known how effective this vaccine will be for people who had had Alzheimer’s for a longer period and are having more severe symptoms. A spokesperson from the Alzheimer’s Society, Dr Anne Corbett commented, “it’s a big step in the right direction. I dislike the word breakthrough probably because I am a scientist. But if we see it’s just as effective in phase three trials then we could call it a breakthrough.”
The trials were presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Vancouver Canada yesterday.