'The Beginning Of The End' For Alzheimer’s? Experts Hail New Drug

Alzheimer’s Research UK says the world is “on the cusp of a first generation of treatments” after trial of Eli Lilly's donanemab.
Evidence of Alzheimer’s disease on scans.
BRIAN SNYDER via Reuters
Evidence of Alzheimer’s disease on scans.

A large study has shown an experimental Alzheimer’s drug appears to slow worsening of the disease – as experts hailed what could be “the beginning of the end” of the mind-robbing illness.

The drug donanemab, made by Eli Lilly and Company, slowed decline in thinking skills by 35% for those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s compared to a dummy drug, the company said following an 18-month clinical trial involving 1,182 people.

The drug is designed to target and clear away a sticky protein called beta-amyloid that builds up into brain-clogging plaques that are one hallmark of Alzheimer’s.

Donanemab also resulted in 40% less decline in the ability to perform activities of daily living, according to the firm.

Lilly said it plans to file for traditional US approval by the end of June, and with regulators from other countries shortly thereafter.

Alzheimer’s Research UK said the world is “on the cusp of a first generation of treatments for Alzheimer’s disease”.

A similar amyloid-targeting drug, Eisai and Biogen’s Leqembi, recently showed evidence that it could modestly slow Alzheimer’s. It also pointed to some safety concerns, such as brain swelling or small brain bleeds.

Donanemab also comes with that risk. Lilly said in its study, the brain side effects caused the deaths of two participants and a third also died after a serious case.

Dr Richard Oakley, associate director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society in the UK, said: “After 20 years with no new Alzheimer’s drugs, we now have two potential new drugs in just 12 months – and for the first time, drugs that seem to slow the progression of disease. This could be the beginning of the end of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Dr Charles Marshall, honorary consultant neurologist at Queen Mary University of London, said: “This is hugely exciting news as it provides further evidence that it is possible to slow down Alzheimer’s disease.

“When the full results are published as a paper we will be able to start carefully balancing the risks and benefits, and this will inform decisions about whether donanemab should be routinely given to patients with Alzheimer’s disease.”

John Hardy, professor of neuroscience and group leader at the UK Dementia Research Institute, University College London, said: “This should dispel any lingering doubts about this approach. Having two drugs is great for competition.”