July 16, 2023 -Alzheimer’s used to be a disease that could not be cured. On Monday, however, the results of the second new drug for Alzheimer’s will be announced, and that seems to herald a new era, says neurologist Niels Prins, director of the Brain Research Center. Other scientists agree that the drugs are hopeful.
“It will be possible to counteract the disease, and that has never been done before in Alzheimer’s,” Prins says. These two drugs both have to be administered by infusion. They are expensive, the side effects can be quite severe, and an infusion is quite invasive, Prins acknowledges. That’s why he calls it a “new era.” He expects that more and more drugs will now be available, including, for example, an Alzheimer’s pill that has fewer side effects.
The Brain Research Center researches the drug. In the process, both the doctor and the patient do not know whether the drug administered is a real drug or a placebo. Therefore, Prins does not know what exactly the study will show. However, a May press release from pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Company already stated that 47 percent of participants who received the drug Donanemab showed no brain deterioration after one year. By comparison, 29 percent of participants who received a placebo also showed no deterioration after one year.
However, Alzheimer’s drugs have also come under heavy criticism. In the case of the drug Lecanemab, experts argued in De Volkskrant that it was unclear whether a patient really noticed a difference. Neurologists also wrote in the NRC last Friday that the drugs are not a panacea. “Despite the cleaned brain, the disease continues to spread and patients end up in nursing homes,” they wrote on the opinion page.
Prins acknowledges that patients and their loved ones won’t notice the difference. “The drugs inhibit deterioration, they can’t suddenly remember things better,” he explains. He points out the difference between the treated and untreated groups: “The untreated group deteriorates faster.” That 47 percent, he says, is also very valuable. “If we express that in years, you potentially get years more health in return.”
The International Alzheimer’s Congress AAIC is taking place this week in Amsterdam. Normally, this congress takes place in the United States. There, this drug as well as other Alzheimer’s studies will be discussed.
Incidentally, the European regulatory authority EMA still has to examine whether Alzheimer’s drugs such as Lecanemab and Donanemab should be approved for the European market.
Reporting by ANP