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Researchers cautiously 'optimistic' about new drug that may slow the progression of Alzheimer's

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Pornpak Khunatorn/Getty Images

The trial of a new drug has given researchers, patients, and loved ones everywhere hope that medicine may soon be able to help slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease.

Lecanemab, a new experimental drug developed by Eisai and Biogen, was recently given to patients with what Reuters described as "mild cognitive impairment and early stage dementia." Of the 1,800 patients who took lecanemab, cognitive decline slowed by as much as 27% compared with those who took a placebo. That decline in progression amounts to an extra six months or so of relatively normal living, scientists said.

Dr. Christopher Van Dyck, director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Unit at Yale School of Medicine, explained that an extra six months means that patients can continue living on their own, paying their own bills and cooking their own meals.

Lecanemab has been designed to target and remove amyloid beta plaque which collects in the brain of those developing Alzheimer's. The preliminary Phase 3 trial results of lecanemab were released on Tuesday, and many in the field are encouraged by what they see.

The signs of "a positive effect on cognition and lifestyle metrics" is "very encouraging," said Valerie Daggett, founder and CEO of AltPep, a company dedicated to finding ways of diagnosing Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease as early as possible and then neutralizing the "toxic soluble oligomers" associated with them.

Katie McDonough with the Southeastern Virginia Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association added that while she still awaits more details about lecanemab, she is nonetheless "very optimistic about the efficacy of this medication."

Dr. Reisa Sperling, director of the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment at Brigham and Women's and Massachusetts General hospitals in Boston, spoke even more plainly: "I've been kind of holding my breath for the last two and a half years ... so it was thrilling to see these results."

Still, researchers caution that tests of lecanemab are still in progress. More details regarding these results will likely become available in November, but no matter what those results show, they say that lecanemab cannot cure the disease or reverse any of the effects that have already taken root.

"It's not a huge effect, but it's a positive effect," stated Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer's Disease Research Center in Rochester, Minnesota.

Roughly 55 million people worldwide suffer from Alzheimer's disease, and there have been precious few victories in the race to combat it. As a result, Eisai has asked the FDA for an expedited review process of lecanemab. The FDA decision on that request is expected to come some time in January.

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