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New drug shows promise in fighting Alzheimer's-related memory loss

| Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016, 8:39 p.m.

In the search for a treatment capable of changing the course of Alzheimer's disease, new findings are offering a rare glimmer of hope: In a preliminary trial of subjects suffering from memory and thinking problems or diagnosed with early Alzheimer's, a bioengineered medication called aducanumab has demonstrated the ability to clear accumulations of beta-amyloid proteins — a hallmark of Alzheimer's — from the brain.

And compared with subjects receiving a placebo medication, those who got monthly infusions of aducanumab in high doses appeared to experience less progressive loss in mental function.

The results of the early clinical trial, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, offer new evidence that clearing amyloid plaques might be an effective strategy for preventing, halting or even reversing Alzheimer's dementia, especially if the degenerative brain disorder is detected and treated early.

“It is a hopeful sign,” said Dr. James A. Hendrix, director of global science initiatives for the Alzheimer's Association. “This is a small trial, but it still is exciting for a number of reasons.

“I am cautiously optimistic,” he said.

The new study reflects the findings of a trial designed primarily to test the safety of aducanumab at a range of doses. The drug's developer, Washington-based Biogen Inc., is soon to launch a pair of much larger trials designed to test aducanumab's effectiveness as a treatment for Alzheimer's.

“We hope to see these findings confirmed,” Hendrix said.

The clinical trial did raise a safety concern. About 41 percent of those getting the highest dose and 37 percent of those getting the second-highest dose developed a complication of brain-fluid accumulation that hampered brain-imaging and was sometimes linked to headaches, visual disturbances and confusion.

The complication tended to disappear four to 12 weeks into treatment. But it prompted 46 percent of those who developed it to drop out of the clinical trial.

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