Patients could receive the game-changing Alzheimer’s treatment as early as next year, a top expert has predicted. But scientists have warned dementia services have much to do to deliver the drug if it gets regulatory approval. Drastic changes will be needed in UK clinics to accommodate the 5 percent of patients eligible for the drug, they cautioned.
The drug, Lecanemab, has been shown to clear the brain of toxic amyloid protein and delay the onset of symptoms during trials, making it the world-first treatment to slow brain decline.
Top geneticist Professor Sir John Hardy said he was confident a new era of treatments targeting amyloid was on the horizon.
He joined others in warning that the UK had too few clinics to diagnose the disease early.
NHS waiting times would need to be significantly reduced or patients will miss out, he added.
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Speaking at an event hosted by the Science Media Centre in London, Sir John said: “I’m really excited about the work that’s going to be presented because we’ve seen press releases and that’s a little bit dangerous.
“I actually think this is a historic moment. It’s taken a long time to get here and we first suggested amyloid therapies in 1992.”
The monoclonal antibody treatment showed promise in a Phase 3 trial, the results of which were published in September.
The immunotherapy drug was tested in a study of 1,795 patients with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease in the US, Japan, Europe and China.
Results showed it reduced the rate of cognitive decline by 27 percent after 18 months, compared to a placebo, according to its manufacturers, Tokyo-based Eisa and US firm Biogen.
These effects were measured using a scale that assessed several cognitive domains; memory, orientation, judgement and problem solving, community affairs, home, hobbies and personal care.
One side effect observed during the study was brain swelling – at a rate of 12.5 percent for patients on Lecanemab, compared to 1.7 in the placebo group.
The companies, however, noted that such aftereffects are “within expectations”.
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The full data of the trial is due to be presented at a major Alzheimer’s conference on November 29 and published this year in a peer-reviewed journal.
Scientists hailed the discovery as a key milestone in the ongoing battle to beat dementia.
Although it is not a cure, it may help prolong the quality of life of millions of patients currently afflicted by neurodegenerative disease in the UK.
Speaking at a briefing ahead of the conference, Doctor Susan Kohlaas, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “The Lecanemab results bring a renewed sense of urgency to really improve the way we diagnosed diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.”
Dementia diagnosis rates have dropped across the nation due to the pandemic, with figures showing they’re stagnating at around 62 percent, according to a report by the National Audit of Memory Assessment Services published in August.
This fares poorly against the national target of 66.7 percent, prompting nationwide campaigns to return the rates back to pre-pandemic levels.
Doctor Liz Coulthard, associate professor in dementia neurology at the University of Bristol and North Bristol NHS Trust, noted: “Over the years we have, as a profession, not used the biochemical definition of Alzheimer’s because we’ve not been able to test for it until after people have died.
“But we’ve now got biomarker tests that have come into the clinical sphere the last five years or so that we can actually diagnose people accurately with Alzheimer’s disease.”