Drug donanemab seen as turning point in dementia fight


A new drug, donanemab, is being hailed as a turning point in the fight against Alzheimer's, after a global trial confirms it slows cognitive decline.

A groundbreaking clinical trial of an Alzheimer's drug has just provided evidence that this therapy can effectively slow the rate of patients' deterioration, bringing new hope that one day, medicine may be able to halt the most prevalent form of dementia. The innovative drug at the center of this promising development is called Donanemab, an antibody therapy developed by the renowned US pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly.

Donanemab specifically targets abnormal clumps of a protein known as beta-amyloid, which tend to accumulate in the brain and are considered a significant hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. By binding to these abnormal amyloid plaques and removing them from the brain, the drug aims to alleviate the damaging effects caused by these toxic protein deposits.

The clinical trial results, which were released recently, reveal that Donanemab works rapidly, effectively clearing nearly 90% of amyloid plaque from the brain. By removing the harmful protein early in the disease progression, the therapy appears to reduce brain damage and decelerate the rate of cognitive decline in patients.

It's important to note that Donanemab is not a cure for Alzheimer's. While patients on the drug did not experience improvements, their decline was notably slower compared to a control group that received a placebo. This breakthrough is seen as a significant triumph in Alzheimer's research after years of failed trials and substantial financial investments. On average, the drug managed to slow disease progression by approximately 20-30%, providing patients with an extended period of about four to seven months of relatively independent living before requiring additional care.

Donanemab is administered through intravenous infusion once every four weeks, and patients are closely monitored with regular brain scans to detect potential side effects, such as brain swelling and bleeding. Although these side effects mostly resolve on their own, there have been rare cases of fatalities.

The drug seems to be most beneficial to patients in the early stages of the disease who have lower levels of another toxic protein called tau in their brains. By addressing amyloid buildup before tau spreads and forms tangles inside neurons, Donanemab has shown its potential to be more effective in such cases.

Interestingly, there are similar drugs in development, like lecanemab from Eisai, a Japanese pharmaceutical company, which functions similarly by targeting amyloid. Lecanemab received accelerated approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), while European and UK regulators are still evaluating its use. Additionally, a drug called aducanumab was FDA-approved in 2021, but its cost and effectiveness have raised concerns, limiting its widespread use.

While these amyloid-targeting drugs represent a significant advancement in directly addressing the progression of Alzheimer's, they are not expected to cure the disease entirely. Many scientists believe that a combination of drugs, each targeting different aspects of the disease process, will be necessary to effectively halt cognitive decline in patients.