March 15, 2021 — An experimental drug appeared to slow cognitive decline in people with early Alzheimer’s disease, according to newly published research.
The drug, donanemab, is an antibody that targets and removes plaques from the brain called amyloid-beta, which are thought to play a role in Alzheimer’s disease.
Compared to people in the study who got a placebo, people who received donanemab showed 32% slower cognitive decline over a year and a half, according to study results published in the New England Journal of Medicine and presented at the 2021 International Conference on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases. People who received the experimental drug also had a greater reduction in the amount of amyloid plaques in the brain, compared to people who received the placebo.
The results from the relatively small, early study give “a signal … that there might be a modest cognitive benefit,” said Howard Fillit, MD, neuroscientist and chief science officer of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, who was not involved with the research.
Though the study measured a slower rate of cognitive decline for people who took the experimental drug, it’s not clear yet whether this slowdown makes a noticeable difference for people with Alzheimer’s, he said, particularly considering that researchers did not see the same benefit when they assessed trial participants with additional measures of cognitive ability.
“Basically, it was a positive study that probably needs to be followed by another, much larger study to get us to really see the benefit,” Fillit said.
The trial was conducted at 56 sites in the United States and Canada and included 257 patients between the ages of 60 and 85. The drug company developing donanemab, Eli Lilly, funded the study.
The researchers note that additional trials following more patients for longer periods of time are warranted to further determine the efficacy and safety of donanemab in Alzheimer’s disease.
In a statement, Maria Carrillo, PhD, chief science officer for the Alzheimer’s Association, said the organization “is encouraged by this promising data,” while calling for more work to assess the experimental drug.
“I’m hopeful for the future,” Carrillo said.