Rebecca May Ristow | A&E Editor
Alzheimer’s disease is largely revered as one of the most common forms of dementia. The disease, which often manifests in older individuals, may lead to loss of memory, language, mobility, and other abilities over time. It can interfere with everyday life and affects millions of people around the world. The disease has not been able to be cured or prevented. BBC even labels the field surrounding its study as, “littered with duds, despair and disappointment.”
Beta amyloid is what causes Alzheimer’s. This is a protein that forms most commonly in clumps around certain areas of the brain, resulting in a sticky plaque. This plaque manifests itself in the symptoms most commonly associated with the disease, particularly contributing to memory loss.
Up until now, the drugs available can only help manage symptoms. However, a new drug called Lecanemab has just been created. The drug is a form of antibody that attacks beta amyloid. Professor John Hardy claims the drug is “historic,” and while the drug only has little effect as of now, and side-effects, it has been shown to decrease memory decline by 27% over only 18 months. The drug is not a cure, but in a field with very few wins, it is thought to show promise that there may soon be a way to slow the effects of Alzheimer’s.
Other scientists aren’t fully sold yet. "This is a very small effect size with a drug that has some side effects," writes Dr. Madhav Thambisetty, neurologist. They have also claimed the evidence of slowed memory loss isn’t entirely convincing. This is similar to the controversy that surrounded the drug Aducanumab. Aducanumab, the only amyloid antibody with approval from the Food and Drug Administration, was only approved on the condition that those who receive it are enrolled in a clinical trial. Due to this, and the side-effects associated with the drug, very few people have actually received it.
Lecanemab is thought to have more promising results, but it is not without its side-effects as well. In the Lecanemab trial, roughly 12% of patients had brain swelling and more than 17% had brain bleeding after taking the drug. Most often, however, these symptoms were mild and resolved early. There have been two deaths linked to Lecanemab. Both patients had other complications as well, which could have contributed to their physical declines, though the complications are worth noting.
The side-effect that scientists seem to find more concerning is brain shrinkage, which certain patients did suffer from during trials. Brain shrinkage indicates a worsening disease, and the continuation of the degenerative process.
The new drug is predicted to have conditional approval in early 2023, with full approval later in the year. It will be up to Alzheimer’s patients and their families whether they choose to participate in trials. The drug is still in its early stages, so the complications and benefits are not entirely clear, hence the divide in thought between scientists. However, many do believe that this drug could be the start of a promising treatment for people with Alzheimer’s, hopefully improving their quality of life.