Researcher: Alzheimer's drug trial "best news" in 25 years

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A new drug could have huge implications for Alzheimer’s disease patients. Patients who took an antibody called aducanumab for a little more than a year had PET scans that showed a decrease in the dementia-associated protein beta amyloid in the brain.

The drug was developed by Biogen, a company based in Massachusetts, according to CNN. The findings of a first phase trial were published in the journal Nature.

The trial mostly focused on determining safety over efficacy, but it also measured the decrease of protein tangles in the brain. According to the Washington Post, the response seemed to be dose-sensitive.

The trial included 165 participants, about 40 of whom had to drop out due to negative side effects such as brain swelling or fluid on the brain—meaning this drug could go the way of other initially promising Alzheimer’s drugs that eventually failed.

But researchers remain positive. One of the study’s authors, Brown University's Stephen Salloway, MD, MS, told the Washington Post the findings were “the best news” he’s heard in 25 years of Alzheimer’s research.

Much of the measured success of the drug will depend on its ability to slow or reverse the cognitive decline that comes with Alzheimer’s. According to the Los Angeles Times, the participants who received the highest doses seemed to experience positive cognitive effects, though the trial wasn’t designed to measure that specifically.

Time reported the aducanumab antibody could work by drawing the immune system’s attention to the amyloid proteins, eventually breaking them down. It’s unknown whether the neural connections damaged by the proteins could then recover to pre-disease levels.  

Additional planned trials (through 2020, according to CNN) will reveal more about the drug’s potential.

The findings could be game-changing for Alzheimer’s researchers, who have so far failed to find a cure or any meaningful treatment for the disease, which afflicts more than five million people in the U.S.