Antibody Treatment Shows Promise For Early Stage Alzheimer's

Credit: Flickr/vestque

A trial of the antibody aducanumab has demonstrated benefit in early stage patients

A debate has raged for some time about what actually causes Alzheimer's disease, and many teams have separated into different camps of thinking. Whether Alzheimer's is a response to infection, inflammation or directly a result of either (or both) amyloid beta and tau still remains to be seen, and it appears the condition is far more complex than initially believed. Despite the hurdles and years of slow and painful progress however, treatments are now showing tantalising signs of benefit which suggests we could be narrowing down our route of attack. 

Curious results

An initial safety trial involving 165 people has found that monthly injections of the amyloid beta antibody aducanumab are able to reduce clumps in patients, and that this appeared to improve mental function in some patients too. Those who received the highest dosage both displayed the largest decrease in amyloid plaque formation and the greatest mental improvement; showing no disease progression in 6 months of treatment. 

“It’s very interesting and nice to see all this positive data, and it has caused genuine excitement in the field, but it’s a very small number of patients and too small to draw any definitive conclusions from”

While the results from the trial, led by US biotech firm Biogen and the Swiss company Neurimmune, are certainly interesting, the actual sample size and trial is far too small to make any serious conclusions yet. There are therefore 2 trials scheduled with aducanumab ahead; recruiting 2,700 patients in 20 countries. 

Brain scans at different antibody dosages. Amyloid beta is shown in red. Credit: Ayres, Michael/Sevigny et al/Nature

Brain scans at different antibody dosages. Amyloid beta is shown in red. Credit: Ayres, Michael/Sevigny et al/Nature

What can we conclude? 

Wa can't really make any conclusions yet, but the positive results do raise an interesting point. If this antibody does indeed have positive effects it adds weight behind the amyloid beta theory, in which plaque formation causes neuron toxicity that leads to death and dysfunction. Tau certainly appears to play a role too, but whether one comes before the other is yet to be fully answered. The most benefit was seen in early stage patients, which suggests preventing plaque formation in the first place might be the most potent treatment following early diagnosis. 

“These findings could be a gamechanger if the effects on memory decline can be confirmed in more extensive follow-on studies. If this drug works, we’ll have a treatment for patients suffering from this devastating disease"

Read more at The Guardian