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Alzheimer’s hailed a “new era” by doctors

scientist looking at a brain scan

A new drug has been made public after clinical trials showed it can slow down the progression of symptoms associated with Alzheimers.

Intense studies suggest the lecanemab drug can also attack a protein called amyloid from the brain, which is thought to be a key element in the most common forms of dementia.

The news has given hope for doctors and scientists across the globe who hail the breakthrough as a “new era” of medication.

Rob Howard, professor of old age psychiatry at University College London, said: "At long last we have gained some traction on this most terrible and feared disease and the years of research and investment have finally paid off.

"It feels momentous and historic. This will encourage real optimism that dementia can be beaten and one day even cured."

The news was released to doctors in the autumn, but many were apprehensive to share the information until it was publicly announced at the Clinical Trials on Alzheimer’s Disease conference this week.

Studies have shown lecanemab can slow down declines in memory and mental agility by 27% in patients with mild Alzheimer’s.

A substantial percentage of people who participated in the trial had so much amyloid protein removed from the brain that they would not qualify for the trail at entry point.

Scientists say the drug is only productive when amyloid is reduced to low levels in the brain.

Professor Nick Fox, director of the Dementia Research Centre at University College London, said: "It confirms a new era of disease modification for Alzheimer's disease, an era that comes after more than 20 years of hard work by many, many people, with many disappointments along the way."

But lecanemab can not cure the illness, however it reduces the need for specialist care and allows people to have more quality time with their families.

However, not every participant benefitted from the trial, one in eight suffered symptoms such as brain swelling and two people have died from what is thought to believe related to them taking lecanemab.

Prof Fox said: "Any risk is clearly important, but I believe that many of my patients would be very willing to take such a risk.”

Another drawback, especially for the NHS, is that the drug needs to be given through intravenous infusions on a fortnightly basis. 

There is also the upsetting factor that most people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when they develop moderate symptoms, at this stage they would not benefit from the drug.

Susan Kohlhaas, director of research at Alzheimer's Research UK said: "It's safe to say that the NHS is not ready for a new era of dementia treatment.

"We estimate that unless there are drastic changes in how people access specialist diagnostic tests for Alzheimer's disease, only 2% of people eligible for drugs like lecanemab will be able to access them."

If given the green light lecanmab will be the first drug that treats symptoms for Alzheimer’s opposed to the underlying cause.

Prof John Hardy, from the UK Dementia Research Institute in London said: “I truly believe it represents the beginning of the end.

"The first step is the hardest, and we now know exactly what we need to do to develop effective drugs. It's exciting to think that future work will build on this, and we will soon have life-changing treatments to tackle this disease."

Fewer than one in 30 people who participated in the trail had actual symptoms such as headaches or confusion.

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