An effective Alzheimer’s treatment could be available in three years and a ‘vaccine’ that prevents the disease within a decade, experts said yesterday.
Twelve drugs – all of which could be potentially ‘life-changing’ – are set to complete clinical trials by 2021.
It is now a matter of ‘when not if’ a cure will be found for the disease, which causes dementia, a panel of leading Alzheimer’s specialists said.
It is now a matter of ‘when not if’ a cure will be found for the dementia
The need for a cure is enormous. There are around 850,000 people suffering from dementia in the UK, two-thirds of them with Alzheimer’s. Last year it became Britain’s number one cause of death, overtaking cardiovascular disease, but no new Alzheimer’s drug has been approved by the NHS since 2002. That could soon change, said Dr David Reynolds, chief scientific officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK yesterday.
‘Right now, there are 12 drugs in the final stages of clinical trials meaning the first life-changing treatment could be possible within three years,’ he told a news conference.
‘And we know that because of the sheer number of people with dementia, the health system could face significant financial and practical challenges to get a new treatment to people quickly. That’s why we’re launching a taskforce today to begin developing creative and collaborative solutions to these challenges.’
Treating dementia currently costs the UK £26billion a year, with 80 per cent taken up by social care and the cost to the economy of workers quitting jobs to care for relatives.
But a report commissioned by Alzheimer’s Research UK said effective treatments could cut that bill. Although offering a vaccine to more than 29million British 50-year-olds would cost £9.4billion per year, if it delayed onset of the disease for at least three years it would be expected to cut the cost of dementia by £12.7billion.
Existing drugs for Alzheimer’s only treat the symptoms, but all of the new drugs undergoing tests aim to treat the disease itself.
Jonathan Schott, honorary consultant neurologist at University College London’s dementia research centre, said yesterday: ‘There is a huge amount of development going on. We need to consider the availability of new treatments for Alzheimer’s as it is when, not if.’
Existing drugs for Alzheimer’s only treat the symptoms, but all of the new drugs undergoing tests aim to treat the disease itself
Currently, there is no ‘disease-modifying’ treatment available that alters the progress of Alzheimer’s. The most patients can hope for is something that dampens down the symptoms. Most of the 12 new drugs undergoing ‘phase three’ trials in humans stop a toxic amyloid plaque forming in the brain that is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s, although two combat inflammation in the brain.
To be most effective, such drugs would have to be given as early as possible, when the first symptoms of mild dementia are showing themselves, or even before.
Identifying patients who qualify for the treatments will require better diagnostic tests, although these are fast being developed, which would greatly increase the number of patients eligible for treatment.
Dr Reynolds said: ‘It wouldn’t be an overnight scenario where everybody at 50 had a treatment like this, but that is where we’re going to, I hope, in the long term.’
Hilary Evans, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: ‘With over one million people expected to be living with dementia by 2025 we have a duty to ensure that people with dementia can benefit from innovations in treatments.’
Trials that give hope to millions
Researchers have identified 12 drugs undergoing clinical trials that could slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease from mild symptoms to full-blown dementia by up to 50 per cent.
All of these drugs under development are intended to fight the disease, not just relieve symptoms, as is the case in existing drugs.
The main category are those that target the sticky beta amyloid proteins that build up as a plaque in the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient. Some attack the plaque by stimulating the brain’s natural immune response – others break it up through a chemical process.
A second category are anti-inflammatory drugs. One surprising inclusion on the list is the diabetes drug insulin.
Another drugs undergoing trials is one that attacks tau, a substance that builds up in Alzheimer’s disease and damages brain cells essential for learning and memory.