New era for Alzheimer’s research? ‘Breakthrough’ drug could be just the start, expert suggests

There is great excitement about trial results released today for a drug treating Alzheimer’s.

The drug, Solanezumab, produced by Eli Lilly, is thought to slow the onset of the disease.

Dr Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, told the BBC’s Today programme that it was the first treatment for Alzheimer’s ‘that really looked like it was disease-modifying’, as opposed to merely countering symptoms.

The final phase of the trial is still 18 months away. But Dr Karran was not afraid to talk up the implications of the data so far:

[It] is hugely significant in at least two ways. Firstly, if the data is confirmed then we will have a new medicine for people with mild Alzheimer’s disease. The second point is that this validates a hypothesis that we’ve had about the disease, what causes the disease and what drives it and many other drugs are following this hypothesis but doing it in different ways.

And so it could be that in three or four years’ time we may have three or four drugs that affect the course of the disease in a beneficial way and if we combine them we may be able to get even more efficacy.

Dr Karran suggested Solanezumab might even be a treatment for people who were merely at risk of Alzheimer’s, who did not yet show any symptoms. He added, though, that it will be several years before it would reach patients.

Solanezumab works by targeting amyloid proteins. These proteins build up around nerve cells, damaging and eventually killing them.

In 2012 the drug seemed to have been dismissed — it was announced that it had not performed sufficiently well in two double-blind, placebo-controlled trials.

But a later look at the data revealed that the drug was more effective in patients at the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s.

Cognitive decline continued in all patients, but appeared to happen more slowly in those taking Solanezumab. According to Dr Karran, the difference in the rate of deterioration in the latest study was about 30 per cent.