By the year 2050, 135 million people are expected to be diagnosed with dementia worldwide. As of now there are drugs that can help mask the symptoms – which include impaired memory, communication and language, focus, reasoning, judgment and visual perception – but they do not deter or prevent dementia from occurring.
But researchers say that trials of a new drug, solanezumab, show promise of being able to delay the onset of the disease.
Speaking before the start of a summit dedicated to dementia, Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said the trials could indicate a breakthrough.
So far, the new drug has shown helpful in patients with mild dementia, and may be even more effective if given preventatively to those at risk long before symptoms appear. Researchers say that brain scans can detect changes in the brains of patients with dementia a decade before symptoms arrive.
If more trials result in success, people with a family history of dementia may be able to receive monthly injections of the drug a decade before any signs of disease show, similar to the way that statins are prescribed for those at risk of heart attacks and strokes.
“That’s exactly the path that blood pressure-lowering agents have taken – people taking them before they have a stroke,” Karran said. “It’s the path that’s been taken with statins which first showed efficacy against the disease and then you go earlier. That has to be the pathway we take. There is very, very good human genetic data which shows that if you can effect this amyloid early on – and only modestly – you have the potential to delay the onset of that disease very significantly indeed.”
Karran said the potential of the drug, as well as two other treatments now in trials, left him hopeful that a breakthrough could happen soon, despite years of frustration in the field of dementia research.
“I am full of hope that we are going to have a breakthrough in five years,” he said.