Behind the Headlines: Could a jab reverse Alzheimer's?

A 'revolutionary jab' that halts the progress of Alzheimer's disease could be available within two years, according to newspaper reports.

Alzheimer's disease: jab could block build-up of amyloid plaques (Photograph: SPL)
Alzheimer's disease: jab could block build-up of amyloid plaques (Photograph: SPL)

Injections of monoclonal antibodies could prevent, or even reverse, the build-up of amyloid plaques in the brains of people developing Alzheimer's disease.

What is the jab mentioned?
Bapineuzumab is an antibody which targets the beta-amyloid plaques that accumulate in the brains of people developing Alzheimer's disease.

A number of therapies are being developed that take an immunological approach to treating and preventing Alzheimer's disease.

However, of all such therapies, bapineuzumab is the most advanced in terms of progression through clinical trials.

It is currently being studied in more than a dozen clinical trials, seven of which are phase III trials - large, late-stage human studies. Bapineuzumab has been shown to reduce the size of beta-amyloid plaques, but its effect on cognitive function is, as yet, uncertain.

Johnson & Johnson, which is developing bapineuzumab in partnership with Pfizer, has said it plans to apply to have the therapy licensed some time in the next two years.

What is the research?
The stories in the newspapers do not cite any new studies or data being carried out on bapineuzumab, but cite the potential of the treatment.

The Daily Mail quotes a UK researcher who has studied immunological approaches to treating Alzheimer's disease and other reports appear to be based on this story.

Although bapineuzumab is the main focus of newspaper reports, the coverage also summarises other developments in the treatment and detection of Alzheimer's disease.

Will the jab become a reality?
Researchers are still some way from producing a bapineuzumab jab for use in humans, according to Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK.

'While it is always encouraging to see a potential new drug for Alzheimer's disease in development, it will be too early to tell whether bapineuzumab could benefit people until the results of this trial are known,' he said.

Dr Ridley pointed out that, although current treatments can ease the symptoms of Alzheimer's for some people, they cannot halt or slow the progression of the disease. 'With more than 820,000 people in the UK affected by dementia, we need to see more treatments being tested to have the best chance of tackling the condition,' he said. 'This means it's vital that we invest in more research.'

Informing patients
  • The 'vaccine' mentioned is an immunological therapy, the monoclonal antibody bapineuzumab.
  • Bapineuzumab has been shown in trials to reduce build up of beta-amyloid plaques.
  • But the therapy is still in late-stage clinical trials and has yet to be submitted for licensing.

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