First new Alzheimer's drug in 20 years approved in the US

8 June 2021, 11:07 | Updated: 8 June 2021, 11:34

US has approved first new Alzheimer's drug in 20 years
US has approved first new Alzheimer's drug in 20 years. Picture: PA Images/Getty Images
Naomi Bartram

By Naomi Bartram

The first new treatment for Alzheimer's disease in 20 years has been approved by regulators in the United States.

US government health officials have approved the first new drug for Alzheimer’s disease in 20 years.

Aducanumab has been developed to treat the underlying cause of the disease, rather than manage symptoms.

The drug targets the protein amyloid, which - according to Alzheimers.org.uk - can form toxic clumps in the brain of someone with Alzheimer’s and trigger dementia.

A new Alzheimer's drug has been approved in America
A new Alzheimer's drug has been approved in America. Picture: Getty Images

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said there was ‘substantial evidence that aducanumab reduces amyloid beta plaques in the brain’ and it seemed ‘reasonably likely’ to benefit Alzheimer’s patients.

Developed by Biogen and Japan’s Eisai Co, one study showed the drug did not reverse mental decline, only slowing it.

The treatment could lead other pharmaceutical companies creating similar drugs, which may lead to the UK regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, considering it for use in Britain.

This would impact the 100,000 people in the UK currently living with a mild form of the disease.

Aducanumab has been developed to treat the underlying cause of Alzheimer's
Aducanumab has been developed to treat the underlying cause of Alzheimer's. Picture: Getty Images

Alzheimer’s Research UK has written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock asking the government to fast-track approval for the drug in the UK.

Chief executive Hilary Evans, said: “People with dementia and their families have been waiting far too long for life-changing new treatments.

“It is now essential that regulatory authorities assess the evidence to decide whether they believe the drug is safe and effective for use in the UK.”

Alzheimer’s Society has called the drug ‘promising’ adding it’s ‘just the beginning of the road to new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease’.

Dr Caleb Alexander, an FDA adviser and researcher at Johns Hopkins University who recommended against the drug’s approval, said he was ‘disappointed’ by the news.

He said: “The FDA gets the respect that it does because it has regulatory standards that are based on firm evidence. In this case, I think they gave the product a pass.”

What is dementia?

According to the NHS website, dementia is ‘a syndrome associated with an ongoing decline of brain functioning’.

Symptoms of dementia include:

  • memory loss
  • thinking speed
  • mental sharpness and quickness
  • language, such as using words incorrectly, or trouble speaking
  • understanding
  • judgement
  • mood
  • movement
  • difficulties doing daily activities

The symptoms of dementia usually become worse over time.

Read more about dementia HERE.