A cure for Alzheimer’s disease – could we be close?

Memories. What are we without them? Who are we? What if everything we have learned and experienced in a lifetime just… disappeared? For patients and families living with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) – this is the reality. It comes as no surprise that people fear getting Alzheimer’s more than almost any other disease. Diagnosis is still difficult as symptoms present or are noticed sometime after the brain has already been irreversibly altered. Curing AD requires not only an in-depth understanding of its pathology but of the brain as a whole.

However, with no new AD drug approved for market use in well over a decade, and the list of rejected candidates ever growing – is it realistic to hope for a ‘one size fits all’ cure?

So… what exactly is AD?

AD is the most common form of dementia; an age-related disease which kills brain cells and destroys the connections between them. Whilst the main symptom is memory loss, mood and social problems also occur. This happens because certain proteins build up and block important areas in the brain, as well as interfere with the biochemical transmission between them. The molecule depleted in this process is acetylcholine. Current treatment options aim to alleviate symptoms by increasing acetylcholine levels in the brain but do little to prevent the disease or stop it from progressing and causing irreversible damage.

With an estimated 850,000 patients in the UK today (a number which is expected to reach 2 million by 2050 due to an aging population), the race to understand the human brain and its memory is more crucial than ever. Only then can we begin to understand how to preserve these memories and prevent their devastating loss.

Where are we today?

In recent years, excitement has been growing for the results of a new clinical trial with a drug named intepirdine – the results of which are due later this year.

Put simply, there are two main ways to increase acetylcholine in the brain: prevent its breakdown or increase its amount. Current medications work by targeting the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine, whereas intepirdine stimulates more release of acetylcholine.

Besides investigating novel drug targets, other trials are also exploring brain imaging techniques and blood tests as a means to provide earlier diagnosis and prevent debilitating symptoms.

Why would intepirdine be any different?

Intepirdine has already been tested in over a dozen clinical trials with promising findings that indicate better cognitive improvement when used in combination with current treatment options (compared to current treatment alone).

However, it is worth noting that intepirdine was originally developed and consequently rejected by pharmaceutics giant, GSK, before being acquired by a new company (Axovant) back in 2015. A similar drug was also rejected for lack of efficacy just two months ago.

Considering drug development from discovery to market typically takes around 20 years, the results of this latest intepirdine trial are awaited with much anticipation.

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Sources and Further Reading

Any opinions above are the author’s alone and may not represent those of his/her affiliations. Any comment is based on the best available evidence at the time of writing. All data is based on externally validated studies unless expressed otherwise. Novel data is representative of sample surveyed. Online recommendation is no substitute for seeing your own doctor and should not be taken as medical advice.

About camillabraganza (3 Articles)
Medical student in the UK. Currently taking a year out to travel and explore other interests.

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