Saturday, October 15, 2011

Gantenerumab: New Alzheimer's drug shows early promise

An experimental Alzheimer's disease drug, Gantenerumab, may help lower levels of amyloid plaque in the brains of people with the disease, an early clinical trial indicates.

The new study, which appears online Oct. 10 in the Archives of Neurology, is among the first to show the effects of an anti-amyloid drug in humans with Alzheimer's disease, but experts caution that while promising, more research is needed before this drug can be deemed safe or effective.

And, in what may turn out to be an equally important caveat, experts also say that it's by no means certain that reducing levels of amyloid plaque would stave off memory loss and the other mental declines associated with the disease because the role of the plaque in Alzheimer's isn't fully understood.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia. Symptoms including serious memory loss, confusion and mood changes develop gradually and worsen with time.

Recently, many strides have been made in diagnosing Alzheimer's disease earlier, but doctors have been stymied by a lack of effective treatments to stop or slow the course of the disease.

It's long been known that a protein fragment called beta-amyloid builds up in the spaces between nerve cells in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease.

The new drug, Gantenerumab, targets these amyloid proteins by priming the body's immune system to recognize them as invaders.

Of 16 people with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease, those who received two to seven infusions of the experimental drug every four weeks showed marked reductions in the amount of plaque in their brains via imaging tests that were conducted several months after their treatments.

By contrast, amyloid load increased among people who were randomized to receive the placebo. The new drug was given at either 60 or 200 milligrams (mg) doses.

The higher dose yielded greater reductions in amyloid levels, the study showed. People who were given the 60 mg doses saw a nearly 16 percent reduction in the amount of amyloid, and those given the 200 mg doses saw a 36 percent reduction.

The new study was conducted and funded by the drug's manufacturer, F. Hoffmann-LaRoche Ltd., in Basel, Switzerland.

The big question is whether or not reducing amyloid levels has any effect on the symptoms or progression of Alzheimer's disease, said Dr. Patrick Lyden, chief of neurology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

"There is a growing concern that amyloid is a guilty bystander, but not the actual culprit in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease, and taking away the bystander may not help the patient," he said.

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