A Cheap and widely prescribed drug could reverse the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s, scientists have said. After decades of research a “cure” for the condition might rest with a common treatment for diabetes.The breakthrough is so significant human trials have started, with experts saying the medication could be available “within years”.
British scientists have hailed liraglutide as a wonder drug that could prove the first effective weapon in the fight against the condition. Their optimism comes after tests in which mice given Alzheimer’s showed drastic improvements in brain function when administered with the drug.
The results convinced Alzheimer’s Society to head up coalition of researchers in a £5million trial involving 210 patients from across the UK. Ground-breaking tests in patients in the early stages of the disease are being led by brain scientist Dr Paul Edison at Imperial College, London.
He said: “We are hoping this will improve memory function, quality of life and we will be able to delay the progression of the disease. “There is evidence that shows patients with Alzheimer’s disease have insulin resistance similar to that seen in diabetes and liraglutide works in different ways in the brain by improving function and nerve growth.
“We saw there is a 70-80 per cent increased risk in people with diabetes getting Alzheimer’s.” Experts say clinical trials of the drug could prove a “game changer” in the way dementia is treated. The world-first study is being led by Imperial College and includes researchers from King’s College and University College, London, and the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
Liraglutide is a relatively new, injectable drug with users taking a 1.2 mg dose once a day to treat Type 2 diabetes. Originally developed to stimulate insulin production, scientists believe it could play a key role in activating brain signalling mechanisms which are destroyed when Alzheimer’s takes grip.
If they are successful it would become the first new dementia treatment in a decade and could be available for use within five years.
Dr Edison said: “Most of the drugs which are now available and are being tested will take years to come to market as they all need to go through various stages of study. “If this works, there’s no market testing to be done because it’s already being used in patients with diabetes. It’s like taking insulin.”
The discovery was first made by researchers at Lancaster University led by Professor Christian Holscher, who has labelled the drug “incredibly exciting”. In tests, rodents’ brains showed a 30 per cent reduction in the build-up of destructive toxic plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer’s.
Prof Holscher said: “My research showed it’s potentially very effective and I think we are really on to something. “This could be a very big advance. “If these clinical trials show positive effects the next stage is a larger study.
“It could be brought to market in five years, maybe even before that.” Liraglutide was licensed for use as a diabetes treatment in Europe in 2009 and America a year later. In the UK it is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence because its cost is justified by the benefits it provides.
It costs around £1,000 a year to treat each patient. Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society said: “Developing new drugs from scratch can take decades and billions of pounds.
If this works, there’s no market testing to be done because it’s already being used in patients with diabetes
Dr Paul Edison
“Sadly the failure rate in Alzheimer’s disease has been shockingly high. “One of the more exciting questions in dementia research today is whether drugs used for other related conditions could also double up as treatments for dementia.
“Early studies in mice suggest liraglutide could be a promising candidate for dementia and so this trial in people is a critically important stage. “If trials are successful we could see it in use as a treatment for dementia in as little as five to 10 years.
“Studies like this could be key in transforming the fight against dementia.” There are 850,000 people in the UK with dementia. New estimates show more than two million will be struck down with the condition by 2050. It commonly occurs in those over 65 and its hallmarks include the rapid deterioration of behaviour, language skills and personality.
Dr Simon Ridley, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Clinical trials are crucial to understand whether a treatment could help people with Alzheimer’s, so it’s encouraging to see this drug taken forward. “We won’t know until this study has completed and the data has been analysed whether liraglutide could benefit people with Alzheimer’s, and we look forward to seeing the results of this trial in due course.
“Currently half a million people are living with Alzheimer’s in the UK and with this number on the increase, we urgently need to find treatments capable of stopping the disease in its tracks.” Libby Dowling, clinical adviser at Diabetes UK, said: “It’s very interesting a diabetes drug might prove to be effective in treating another long-term condition.
“We already know about the potential link between the two conditions so continued research is very important.”
Published: Wed, Apr 22, 2015. Giles Sheldrick
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