The breakthrough was hailed as the “best news” in dementia research for 25 years and a potential “game changer” for people with Alzheimer’s, The Telegraph reports.
Scientists said they were amazed to find that patients treated with the highest dose of the antibody drug aducanumab experienced an almost complete clearance of the amyloid plaques that prevent brain cells communicating, leading to irreversible memory loss and cognitive decline.
Crucially they also found that after six months of the treatment, patients stopped deteriorating compared with those taking a placebo, suggesting that their dementia had been halted.
If shown to be effective in larger trials, the first drug to prevent dementia could be available in just a few years.
“The results of this clinical study make us optimistic that we can potentially make a great step forward in treating Alzheimer’s disease,” said Prof Roger Nitsch, at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Zurich.
“In the high dose group the amyloid has almost completely disappeared. The effect size of this drug is unprecedented.
“Despite it being a small sample there appeared to be a slowing of cognitive decline and functional decline. The group with a high degree of amyloid removal were basically stable. If we could reproduce this it would be terrific.”
Dr Alfred Sandrock, from the Massachusetts-based biotech company Biogen, which is hoping to bring the drug to market, said: “This is the best news that we have had in our 25 years and it brings new hope to patients with this disease.”
The last Alzheimer’s drug licensed in the UK became available more than a decade ago. Current treatments can reduce symptoms to some extent but doctors have nothing that can halt or slow progression of the disease.
Not only does the new study suggest a treatment for the disease, but shows that the build-up of amyloid plaque in the brain is likely to be to blame.