A dementia-halting drug may already exist but has been overlooked because it was trialled on the wrong patients, The Daily Telegraph reports the UK Alzheimerʼs Society has said. The leading research charity has called on scientists to go back through the catalogue of supposedly failed medicines and re-try them in a more targeted way.
Previous drug trials may have painted a falsely gloomy picture because some of the patients enrolled in them did not even have Alzheimerʼs, experts said. Pointing to 97 trials of potentially disease-modifying treatments currently underway, the charity warned of a “serious risk that we throw the baby out with the bathwater when we get negative results”.
Research has been hampered by a lack of quality testing that both flags the disease at an early stage and also indicates what type an individual patient is suffering from. However, a new generation of easy-to-use blood tests is set to be rolled out in clinics within the next 18 months.
The Telegraph reports that in an interview, Alzheimerʼs Society head of research Dr Richard Oakley said this will allow scientists to match the right patients with the right drugs in the way that has been so successful in the field of cancer.
The report says these comments come as Professor Nick Fox, a leading dementia diagnosis researcher who treated the late Monty Python star Terry Jones, said he expected a successful disease-modifying treatment within five years. “We will be able to run trials significantly more efficiently – we will be able to recruit the right patients,” he said. Fox, from University College London, predicted that patients suffering from familial, or genetic, forms of Alzheimerʼs may be the first groups to benefit. However, both experts warned that dementia research, already underfunded despite it being the UKʼs biggest killer, faces a huge disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The availability of the new tests also promises to revolutionise the search for new drugs that can halt forms of the disease, by highlighting new biological targets.
Fox said that, aside from their impact in the hunt for a disease- halting drug, the new blood tests would “democratise” dementia diagnosis. “Their important role will be in improving the quality of diagnosis, particular in difficult situations or complicated symptoms, such as when a different condition mimics dementia, or when complicated by depression or psychiatric illness,” he said.
Full report in The Daily Telegraph (subscription needed)