Could new drug really be the ‘beginning of the end’ for dementia?
This week marked a major turning point in the fight against dementia with the news that a new drug has been shown to slow down the progress of Alzheimer’s disease – the most common form of dementia.
Dr Richard Oakley, Associate Director of Research and Innovation at Alzheimer’s Society across the UK, said donanemab could signal the ‘beginning of the end’ for the diseases that cause dementia.
The full results of trials, announced on Monday, revealed the drug is able to slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by over 20% for everyone who received donanemab on the trial.
A slowing of 35% was seen in those in the earlier stages of the condition.
Alzheimer’s Society Cymru estimates there could be up to 720,000 people in the UK who could benefit from new treatments like donanemab should they become available.
It is hoped this marks the first step towards a future where Alzheimer’s disease could be considered a long-term condition, such as diabetes or asthma.
And while those diagnosed may have to live with the disease, they could have treatments that allow them to effectively manage their symptoms and continue to lead fulfilled lives for longer.
Donanemab works with the body’s immune system to clear amyloid – a sticky protein that builds up in the brains of people living with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease and is thought to be involved in the causes of the disease.
Alzheimer’s Society was at the forefront of funding research into the role of amyloid in Alzheimer’s disease over 30 years ago – and continues to fund research that will be pivotal to unlocking yet more breakthroughs.
Here, the charity answers questions about the new drug, the importance of a timely and accurate diagnosis, and how to get support.
How does donanemab work?
It works with the body’s immune system to clear amyloid protein build up from the brains of people living with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.
These amyloid protein build ups are thought to be toxic to brain cells, causing them to get sick and eventually die, leading to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
What tangible difference could donanemab make for people with Alzheimer’s disease and their loved ones?
Based on the latest results, donanemab showed evidence of slowing down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by over 20%.
A slowing of 35% was seen in those in the earlier stages of the disease. This represents a delay in symptoms getting worse of between 4.4 and 7.5 months.
How far off are we from treatments like these being readily available to the patients?
Realistically, 2025 is the earliest this drug might be made available via the NHS. We need decisions as quickly as possible from the regulators MHRA and NICE.
A drug will not become available in the UK or Europe without having strong evidence to show that it is both safe and effective as a treatment. As well as this, we need our NHS to be ready. We can’t be in a position where these drugs are available but people can’t get them early when they work best.
What is available for me if I have a different form of dementia?
Unfortunately donanemab, if approved, would only be available for people living with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
There are no treatments available which stop or slow down the progression of other diseases that cause dementia. This is why continued and increased investment into dementia research is absolutely crucial.
What is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease?
Dementia is a condition where problems with memory or other types of thinking make it hard for a person to do everyday activities by themselves.
It can be caused by many different diseases that affect the brain. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for around 60% of those with the condition.
Other types include vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia and frontotemporal dementia.
Why is getting a diagnosis important?
A diagnosis can be daunting but nine in 10 people told us they benefitted from getting a diagnosis. Getting a timely and accurate diagnosis of dementia can give you a better understanding of the condition and what to expect.
It can also help you unlock access to treatments, support and care. Alzheimer’s Society is a vital source of support for everyone affected by dementia.
If you need help, visit alzheimers.org.uk or call 0333 150 3456 to speak to one of our expert Dementia Advisers.
If you speak Welsh call our Welsh language support line on 03300 947 400. To get a free Alzheimer’s Society symptoms checklist which you can use to discuss your symptoms with your GP, visit alzheimers.org.uk/checklist
Can I get involved in dementia research?
Yes, you can. In fact, we will only see progress in clinical trials for new treatments if people from all backgrounds have the opportunity to join them.
It’s not all about taking new drugs or having invasive tests, some trials are as simple as answering surveys and anyone over 18 in the UK can sign up. If you would like to know more, search ‘Join Dementia Research’ or visit Alzheimer’s Society’s website.
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