Can Alzheimer's drug halt progress?

A new drug can slow Alzheimer's disease progression by up to 80 per cent, according to reports.

Experimental drug Rember, the first of its kind to target tau protein tangles, will offer hope to the UK's 400,000 Alzheimer's disease sufferers.

Experts believe that Rember could be twice as effective at treating Alzheimer's disease as current medications, according to newspapers. Most drugs only reduce the symptoms but Rember treats the cause. There are even suggestions the drug could be used prophylactically.

The drug could be available within four to five years if further clinical trials are successful.

It is expected to cost a similar amount to present drugs, such as Aricept, which costs £2.50 a day.

Results of a phase II trial
The findings are from a randomised, double-blind phase II clinical trial conducted over 84 weeks by the University of Aberdeen in the UK and Singapore. The objective was to assess the effect of Rember on cognitive ability in patients with mild or moderate dementia. The 321 patients were randomised into four groups: three taking oral Rember at 30, 60 and 100mg three times daily and one control. The optimal dose was found to be 60mg.

At 84 weeks, there was an 81 per cent reduction in rate of decline, as measured by ADAS-cog, relative to controls. In the control group there was a significant decline in cognitive ability.

The researchers believe Rember works by disrupting the bonds between truncated tau molecules. The tau monomers can then be cleared by normal cell pathways.

Treatment model for the future
Principal investigator Dr Donald Mowat, a former GP, now consultant psychiatrist for NHS Grampian said: 'We are hoping to be doing a phase III trial fairly soon. With any luck there will be UK centres to which GPs can refer their patients.

'The word here is hope. We are hoping to move to a proactive treatment where we can treat the disorder as soon as it's diagnosed. This is a treatment model for the future,' he said.

Professor Claude Wischik, from the University of Aberdeen's Institute of Medical Sciences, who led the research, said: 'This is an unprecedented result in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.

'We have demonstrated for the first time that it may be possible to arrest the progression of this disease by targeting the tangles which are highly correlated with the disease.'

What do other researchers say?
Professor Clive Ballard, director of research at the Alzheimer's Society said: 'This research gives hope that a drug which could slow the effects of Alzheimer's may be available in five to 10 years' time. However we are not there yet.

'This was a modest-sized trial of people with mild and moderate Alzheimer's disease. Larger scale trials are needed to confirm its safety, potential side-effects, optimum dose and how far it benefits people with Alzheimer's,' he added.

  • Findings presented at the 2008 Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease (ICAD 2008) in Chicago, US.

Informing patients

  • Around 400,000 people are affected by Alzheimer's disease in the UK.
  • Most drugs only reduce the symptoms.
  • Rember is the first tau aggregation inhibitor in development as a potential treatment for the degenerative condition.
  • It may be possible to arrest disease progression by tau aggregation.

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