Eagerly awaited data on the most promising drug in treating Alzheimer’s disease is set to be unveiled later.
Researchers will reveal results of studies into the use of solanezumab, which patients and scientists hope could be the first medication to slow the pace of brain decline.
Existing drugs help with symptoms but nothing stops the death of brain cells.
Dr Eric Karran, from Alzheimer’s Research UK, said the drug could prove to be “hugely significant”.
Details of studies into the use of solanezumab will be given at a conference in Washington.
The drug – which has been the great hope of dementia research – targets deformed proteins called amyloid that build up in the brain during Alzheimer’s.
It is thought the formation of sticky plaques of amyloid between nerve cells leads to damage and eventually brain cell death.
Trials of the drug seemingly ended in failure in 2012.
However, when the US company Eli Lilly looked more closely at the data, there were hints it could be working for patients in the earliest stages of the disease.
Those people have continued to take the drugs and results on how they have progressed are due to be revealed later at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.
It is known that these drugs are not stopping, halting or curing dementia.
The closer analysis of the 2012 data showed that all patients continued their cognitive decline – but seemingly at a slower pace in those taking the drugs.
Yet developing a drug that just slows the pace of dementia would be regarded by experts as a groundbreaking moment.
Estimates suggest that delaying the onset of dementia by five years would reduce the number of cases by a third.
‘Slower by about 30%’
Data being released on Wednesday could represent a step closer to that breakthrough drug, but the critical moment will be a fresh clinical trial expected to report next year.
The idea that amyloid is the main culprit in Alzheimer’s is still hotly debated so promising drug trial data would also hint that scientists are at least on the right track.
The Alzheimer’s Society says there are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK – with Alzheimer’s affecting 62% of those diagnosed.
Dr Karran, who previously worked for Eli Lilly, said there was no suggestion the drug would “cure” dementia.
But he said the rate of deterioration in people tested was “slower by about 30%” compared to those who did not use the drug.
Dementia across the globe
44 millionglobally have dementia
135 millionwill have the disease in 2050
By then71%will be poor and middle income
$600bnglobal cost of dementia
In the UK, cancer research gets8xas much funding as dementia
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This was the first time that we have seen a benefit that really looked like it was disease-modifying.”
Further studies will look at people at risk of developing the disease, he added, saying “it could well be that the earlier you go in the disease process the greater the benefit will be”.
But he said it could be “several years” before the drug is widely available to patients.