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Published on: October 31, 2012
by Fiona Macrae & Paul Bentley for The Daily Mail:
A pill said to halt the devastating onset of Alzheimer’s disease could be on the market within four years, scientists said yesterday.
Believed to be more than twice as good as anything already available, it could greatly slow or even halt the progression of the cruel illness. Given early enough, it could stop Alzheimer’s from ever developing, an international dementia conference was told yesterday.
A version of the twice-a-day pill – developed by British scientists – has already been tested on patients, with ‘unprecedented’ results. Its inventor, Professor Claude Wischik, of Aberdeen University, said: ‘It flatlines the disease. If you get in early, you can pull people back from the brink.’
Eventually, the drug could be prescribed to everyone aged 60-plus to keep their mind sharp, even if they have yet to show signs of dementia. However, others have urged caution, warning that even extremely promising drugs can fail in the final stages of testing.
Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia affect more than 800,000 Britons, with the number expected to double in a generation as the population ages.
Existing drugs delay the progress of Alzheimer’s, but their failure to tackle the underlying cause in the brain means that the effect quickly wears off and the disease soon takes its devastating course.
The new drug, known only as LMTX, works in a different way to current treatments and to many of the Alzheimer’s tablets and jabs in development, which target the brain’s chemistry or the build-up of a brain-clogging protein called beta-amyloid.
LMTX, in contrast, dissolves the ‘tangles’ of protein that are a hallmark of the disease and spread through the brain like an infection, stopping them working from within.
An earlier version of LMTX, called Rember, has already been tested on patients with promising results.
Given to men and women with mild to moderate dementia, the Rember capsules slowed the progression of the disease by 90 per cent for two years.
This made it more than twice as good as current treatments.
Patients, and their loved ones, told how they were more confident and better able to cope with daily life.
One woman with mild Alzheimer’s was able to return to work and, around six years on, is still taking the drug and still working.
However, Rember had several digestive side-effects and there were problems taking it with food, leading to its reformulation as LMTX.
To prove that LMTX is just as effective but without as many complications, TauRx Therapeutics, the drug firm Professor Wischik co-founded, is starting two ‘final-hurdle’ trials that will involve almost 1,500 men and women with mild or moderate Alzheimer’s.
The patients, including some 150 Britons, will take the pill or a dummy drug for up to 18 months.
If LMTX is deemed safe and effective by the regulatory authorities, it could be on sale in just four years, the Clinical Trials Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease in Monte Carlo heard.
Several highly promising Alzheimer’s drugs have recently failed to make the grade but Professor Wischik is confident of success.
He said that even if LMTX simply slows the progression of the disease, rather than completely halting it, it could still be of huge benefit.
‘Even if people are progressing very slowly, they can stay at home with their loved ones for longer, rather than having to go into institutional care,’ he said.
‘But, hopefully, if you bring it in early enough, you can stop this or at least put a big dent in it.’
Dr Richard Perry, an Alzheimer’s expert at London’s Charing Cross Hospital and at the Re:Cognition Health memory clinic, said that the protein tangles are a ‘very legitimate target’.
He added that LMTX is one to watch but its value won’t be known until the large-scale trials are completed.
Rebecca Wood, of the Alzheimer’s Research UK charity, said: ‘With current Alzheimer’s drugs acting to relieve symptoms, there is a desperate need for new treatments which can slow or stop the disease.
‘Support for research must be maintained if we are to keep building on our knowledge and developing potential new ways to beats this devastating disease.’
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