Trial shows new drug can slow down Alzheimer’s significantly

18 Jul 2023

Image: © Caphira Lescante/

Eli Lilly, which developed the donanemab, said the drug can clear amyloid plaque from an Alzheimer’s patient’s brain in as little as six months.

A new drug is being hailed as a “turning point” in the treatment of dementia after a global trial showed donanemab significantly slowed cognitive and functional decline in people with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.

Developed by US pharma giant Eli Lilly, the landmark phase 3 trial for donanemab ended recently and results of the study were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association yesterday (17 July).

Eli Lilly said the drug was able to slow cognitive and functional decline for patients by reducing the build-up of amyloid protein deposits in their brains. This helped slow disease progression, with nearly half the patients in the trial having no clinical progression at one year.

Donanemab is now awaiting regulatory approval from the US Food and Drug Administration and other global regulators. It is expected that most of the approvals will be made before the end of the year.

“If approved, we believe donanemab can provide clinically meaningful benefits for people with this disease and the possibility of completing their course of treatment as early as six months once their amyloid plaque is cleared,” said Anne White, executive vice-president of Eli Lilly.

“We must continue to remove any barriers in access to amyloid-targeting therapies and diagnostics in an already complex healthcare ecosystem for Alzheimer’s disease.”

The UK Alzheimer’s Society told the BBC in a statement that donanemab is “truly a turning point” in the fight against Alzheimer’s.

“Timely, accurate diagnosis is key, and currently only 2pc of people in England and Wales receive their diagnosis through the specialist investigations needed to be eligible for these treatments,” Kate Lee, CEO of the charity, told BBC News.

“Alongside this, these emerging Alzheimer’s disease drugs require regular infusions and monitoring, and the NHS is not yet equipped to do this at scale.”

According to the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, there are more than 64,000 people in the country who have dementia, of which Alzheimer’s is a major type. The other major type of the disease is called vascular dementia, which cannot be treated using donanemab. The number of people with dementia in Ireland is expected to increase to 150,000 by 2045.

People live for an average of eight to 10 years from the time first symptoms emerge, the society notes. But life expectancy varies considerably depending on how old a person is when symptoms begin.

“A person diagnosed in their 60’s will live longer than someone diagnosed in their 90’s. Life expectancy is also affected by other illnesses the person experiences,” the society writes.

Last November, a drug called lecanemab was shown to slow down cognitive and functional decline in Alzheimer’s patients by 27pc in a clinical trial.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic