Is lecanemab an Alzheimer’s wonder drug?

There’s been much research into dementia recently. As the world’s population ages, that’s a good thing. However, much of the work has been around identifying the causes of dementia and, by extension, methods of prevention. Now successful trials of a new drug, lecanemab, is giving hope to those who already have dementia – specifically Alzheimer’s disease.

Lecanemab is one of two drugs targeting Alzheimer’s for which recent clinical trials have delivered very promising results. Eighteen-month trials of the drug in the UK have produced a significant slowing of cognitive decline in volunteers. Indications are that the decline has been restricted by 25 to 33 per cent.

Neither lecanemab nor the other drug being trialled – donanemab – cure Alzheimer’s, but they provide hope of a ‘normal’ life for longer. 

Dr Cath Mummery, from the Dementia Research Centre at University College London, explained the effect in layperson’s terms. She said the treatment “gives you, over that 18-month period, about five months at a higher level of function”. 

How does lecanemab work?

Researchers have known for some time that an abnormal build-up of proteins in the brain is a cause of Alzheimer’s. One of these proteins, amyloid, forms clumps or plaques around neurons, cells that transmit information and instructions throughout the body. A build-up of amyloid eventually interferes with this transmission, leading to Alzheimer’s.

Lecanemab and donanemab are antibodies engineered to bind to amyloid and help immune cells clear it away. Thus, the build-up of amyloids is slowed, giving sufferers a better chance of longer periods of sustained cognitive function.

While not a cure, many specialists believe that development of these drugs will mark a turning point in treating Alzheimer’s. Dr Emer MacSweeney, who runs the private company that led the UK arm of the trial of both drugs, is one of those. She said the development could be life-changing.

“Any medications that can slow this process and also which herald the beginning of a new era of other new medications designed to be possibly able to stop this disease in its tracks is very big news.” she said.

Next steps and Australian availability

Lecanemab is already approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States. The FDA’s equivalent in the UK (the National Health Service) and Australia (the Therapeutic Goods Administration) have yet to grant approval.

However, Australians have the opportunity to take part in lecanemab drug trials being undertaken here. The Australian Dementia Network (ADNeT) is recruiting participants in Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia and South Australia.

Successful trials will give hope not only to existing Alzheimer’s sufferers, but also those genetically predisposed to the disease. Those identified as such could then be given lecanemab and/or donanemab at an earlier stage. 

Dr Mummery explained why this was important. “What we hope is, if you give it when you’ve got less amyloid in the brain and you haven’t got damage because you haven’t got symptoms, then it might have a greater effect.”

Those interested in finding out more about the Australian trials and registering their interest can do so through ADNeT’s website.

Do you know someone who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s? Do you think they would be interested in participating in the trial? Let us know via the comments section below. 

Also read: Lewy body dementia and its prognosis

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.
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