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New experimental drug for Alzheimer's found helpful

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 12th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

While it failed to stop mental decline in Alzheimer's patients, a new experimental drug signaled a potential benefit that if given earlier, appears to stabilize brain plaque. According to researchers, some patients on the drug had more stable levels of brain plaque and less evidence of nerve damage as compared to patients on a placebo.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Called bapineuzumab (bap-ih-NOOZ-uh-mab), produced by Pfizer Inc. and Johnson & Johnson. The test results suggest it might work if given sooner, before too much damage and memory loss have occurred.

"We're very disappointed that we were not able to come up with a treatment to provide to our dementia patients in the near term," Dr. Reisa Sperling, director of the Alzheimer's center at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston said.

Brain imaging coupled with spinal fluid tests are "very encouraging" and suggest the drug was "doing something to the biology of the disease."

The drug will now go forward in people with mild mental impairment -- or those who show plaque on brain imaging but have not yet developed symptoms of dementia. People with mild cognitive impairment, about 15 to 20 percent a year will develop Alzheimer's disease.

Thirty-five million people worldwide are estimated to have dementia, and Alzheimer's is the most common manifestation. About 5 million in the U.S. have Alzheimer's. Current medicines such as Aricept and Namenda just temporarily ease symptoms. There is no known cure.

Previous studies of the drug study have proved to be disappointing, including results reported earlier on bapineuzumab. The drug failed to slow mental decline or improve activities of daily living for patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's in studies in both the United States and Canada.

Bapineuzumab is designed to attach and help clear amyloid, the material that makes up the sticky plaque that clogs patients' brains, harming nerve cells and impairing memory and thought. Doctors are still unaware if amyloid is a cause or just a symptom of Alzheimer's, but many companies are testing drugs to try to remove it.

Sperling's study involved test subjects with a gene that raises the risk of developing the disease. Dr. Stephen Salloway, a neurologist at Brown Medical School in Providence, R.I., led the other study of people without the gene.

Both researchers have consulted for the companies that make the drug and presented results Tuesday at a neurology conference in Stockholm.

Brain imaging on a subset of patients in Sperling's study found 9 percent less amyloid in those on bapineuzumab compared to those on a dummy treatment. The drug group had stable levels while the others developed more plaque.

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