Alzheimer’s Society research shows that 900,000 people in the UK have a form of dementia. By 2025, 1 million people will be living with the condition. Dementia deaths are rising year on year and it is predicted that 225,000 people will develop dementia this year – that’s one person every three minutes.
A new drug called donanemab which claims to slow mental decline caused by Alzheimer’s by 36% could mark ‘the beginning of the end’ for the degenerative brain disease. Based on initial findings, the drug taken as a monthly infusion for 18 months was found to also halt a reduction in the ability to perform daily activities by up to 40%.
Alzheimer’s Society’s response
Dementia is the biggest killer in the UK and over 60% of people living with dementia are thought to have Alzheimer’s disease. Dr Richard Oakley, Associate Director of Research and Innovation at Alzheimer’s Society regards the donanemab results as a “turning point in the fight against Alzheimer’s” as science is “proving that it is possible to slow down the disease”.
“Today’s full results support what we heard about donanemab back in May, that the drug is able to slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by more than 20%. This study adds to the growing evidence that treating people as early as possible may be more beneficial, with the effects of donanemab greater in people who were at an earlier stage of the disease.”
Treatments like donanemab are being considered by the Society as “the first steps towards a future where Alzheimer’s disease could be considered a long-term condition alongside diabetes or asthma”. People may have to live with it, but they could have treatments that allow them to effectively manage their symptoms and continue to live fulfilled lives.
Oakley also pointed to the importance of recognising that side effects did occur, although serious side effects only occurred in 1.6% of people receiving the drug. “regulators will need to balance these side effects against the benefits of the drug” he said.
Diagnosis is crucial
Oakley contends that diagnosis will be key to the access of any new treatments. The current NHS backlog to dementia diagnosis therefore poses problems. “we can’t have a situation where treatments are approved for use in the UK but people aren’t diagnosed early or accurately enough to be eligible. We need early, and accurate, diagnoses available for everyone and the NHS ready to roll out treatments such as donanemab and lecanemab if and when they are approved in the UK”.
“Just as we’ve seen a transformation in cancer treatment in recent decades, we’re really hopeful we’re on the same path for dementia. The research we’re funding now will be pivotal in unlocking more breakthroughs”.
An important aspect of the trial is that the majority of people who took part were white. Oakley notes that it is “crucial that in future trials we see more diversity to prove that new drug treatments have similar effects for everyone living with Alzheimer’s disease” as progress in clinical trials for new treatments will only be seen if people from all backgrounds have the opportunity to join them.
“It’s not all about taking new drugs or having invasive tests, some trials are as simple as answering surveys and anyone over 18 in the UK can sign up.”
Curia’s Dementia Commission
Curia’s Dementia Commission is uniquely bringing national, regional and local leaders together to implement a plan to set out a plan to improve the life chances of all people living with dementia. Our commissioners will help the Curia research team produce solutions to improve implementation. Case studies on dementia and good examples of best practice will feature at a series of inquiry sessions and in the final report.
Three roundtable inquiries will create a vision for what the environment needs to look like to support people with neurodegenerative conditions, namely dementia and be ready for future treatment pathways. The roundtables will produce recommendations for how outcomes can be improved. Stakeholders will include clinical leads, commissioners and regulators including NICE, NHS England and patient organisations. Each roundtable will have a remit to look at how pre-existing policy can be implemented, identifying where gaps exist in the policy landscape and setting a series of recommendations to explore the improvement in the system for patients with a neurodegenerative condition.