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Experimental Alzheimer's disease treatment could slow cognitive decline, study shows

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Posted at 2:37 PM, Mar 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-15 15:37:13-04

An experimental drug has shown promising results for slowing cognitive decline in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, according to early results from a clinical trial published recently.

The Eli Lilly and Company intravenous drug donanemab was given to half of the more than 250 study participants who all had early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this month.

The clinical trial results claim to show the use of donanemab slowed the decline of cognition and daily function by 32% after about 75 weeks, compared to the half who were given a placebo. With initial differences being spotted as early as 36 weeks of treatment.

The decline rate was measured using the Integrated Alzheimer’s Disease Rating Scale, which looks at both cognitive and functional ability.

The study also looked at the drug’s effect on the buildup of amyloid beta plaque and tau proteins.

At 52 weeks, 60% of those receiving donanemab had a level of amyloid beta plaque back down to those of an otherwise healthy person.

“We were pleased to see not only slowing of cognitive and functional decline, but also very substantial clearance of amyloid plaques and slowing of spread of tau pathology,” said Daniel Skovronsky, M.D., Ph.D., Lilly's chief scientific officer and president of Lilly Research Laboratories. “We are grateful to the patients, caregivers, and investigators who participated in this landmark study."

Researchers said those who reached this low level of amyloid beta plaque were taken off the drug and given the placebo, and the slowing of cognitive and daily function still continued.

Some researchers in the field of Alzheimer’s disease believe "if you stop amyloid early enough, and you slow down that tau, you might be able to slow Alzheimer's," Maria Carrillo, chief science officer at the Alzheimer's Association, who was not involved in the study, told CNN.

"That's what this paper is trying to show, and it is one of the very first times we've seen this."

This research is still in the early phases and longer trials are needed to determine the drug’s safety and efficacy.