New Drug First Major Breakthrough for Alzheimer’s in the Past Decade

This drug combined with antibody therapies could prevent or even cure the neurodegenerative disorder. 

 

Woman is excited to see Alzheimer's patient.
Music therapist surprised at Alzheimer's patient's reaction.

Amyloid beta plaques are gooey globs that clump together, stick to neurons inside the brain and kill them off, outright. The slow but steady accumulation of these plaques leads to Alzheimer’s disease. Tau protein tangles aid them by cutting off the brain’s supply lines, as the plaques march across white and gray matter, taking out the memory and cognitive ability, and wreaking havoc on the patient and their family. No treatment can halt this invasion once it occurs. But now, a small trial for an experimental drug is lending patients and loved ones hope.


This drug inhibits the production of these plaques, according to a small study. Scientists at Merck Research Laboratories have announced the drug Verubecestat. In a small, phase I trial it “switched off” the production of the amyloid proteins that form these plaques. This in turn slowed the progression of the disease.  

University College London neuroscientist John Hardy, who played a role in amyloid plaque’s implication in Alzheimer’s, warned in an interview with The Guardian, that it is too soon to start breaking out the champagne. The results are from this phase I clinical trial including a mere 32 participants.  

Even so, team leader for the Merck project, Matthew Kennedy, told Scientific American that this was the first effective BACE1 inhibitor that also maintained a good safety profile. Two follow-up trials, currently ongoing, including together 3,500 participants, should give us more insight into its efficacy and safety profile, long-term. Each will last 18 months or longer. One includes 1,500 prodromal patients, where the disease is in its seminal stages, and the other with 2,000 patients who each have mild-to-moderate disease. The first trial ends in 2019, while the second will show results next year.

Enzyme snipping amyloid precursor proteins.

If effective, Verubecestat will be the first breakthrough treatment for Alzheimer’s in a decade. For the phase I trial, each participant took the medication in pill form, once a day for a week. A control group who did not have Alzheimer’s, took the drug daily for two weeks. No side effects were reported.

Enzymes in the body produce proteins. This drug is designed to inhibit the enzyme BACE1. By doing so, the production of amyloid proteins is halted. BACE1 is thought to slice amyloid precursor proteins (APP) to bits, which go on and form globules that gunk up the gray and white matter. These two trials should also help solve a longstanding debate among the Alzheimer’s research community. There is a split over whether amyloid beta protein or tau tangles are the primary driver of the disease. Most believe amyloid protein is.

These findings arrived at an auspicious time. President Barack Obama recently dubbed November national Alzheimer’s awareness month. The administration has set the lofty goal of preventing or curing Alzheimer’s by 2025. Several treatments in the works may reap results. This BACE1 inhibitor is among the most promising.

On another front, in a study published in the journal Nature, antibody therapies were shown to break up existing amyloid plaque buildup. In that study, the drug Aducanumab was used. Researchers speculate that this could be combined with a BACE1 inhibitor like Verubecestat in order to recoup areas of the brain already affected, while at the same time, blocking the production of amyloid protein. Though dead neurons cannot be revived, living ones can be salvaged.

To learn more about Alzheimer’s treatment click here: 

A historian identifies the worst year in human history

A Harvard professor's study discovers the worst year to be alive.

The Triumph of Death. 1562.

Credit: Pieter Bruegel the Elder. (Museo del Prado).
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Harvard professor Michael McCormick argues the worst year to be alive was 536 AD.
  • The year was terrible due to cataclysmic eruptions that blocked out the sun and the spread of the plague.
  • 536 ushered in the coldest decade in thousands of years and started a century of economic devastation.
Keep reading Show less

Why professional soccer players choke during penalty kicks

A new study used functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to measure brain activity as inexperienced and experienced soccer players took penalty kicks.

PORTLAND, OREGON - MAY 09: Diego Valeri #8 of Portland Timbers reacts after missing a penalty kick in the second half against the Seattle Sounders at Providence Park on May 09, 2021 in Portland, Oregon.

Abbie Parr via Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • The new study is the first to use in-the-field imaging technology to measure brain activity as people delivered penalty kicks.
  • Participants were asked to kick a total of 15 penalty shots under three different scenarios, each designed to be increasingly stressful.
  • Kickers who missed shots showed higher activity in brain areas that were irrelevant to kicking a soccer ball, suggesting they were overthinking.
Keep reading Show less

Changing a brain to save a life: how far should rehabilitation go?

What's the difference between brainwashing and rehabilitation?

Credit: Roy Rochlin via Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • The book and movie, A Clockwork Orange, powerfully asks us to consider the murky lines between rehabilitation, brainwashing, and dehumanization.
  • There are a variety of ways, from hormonal treatment to surgical lobotomies, to force a person to be more law abiding, calm, or moral.
  • Is a world with less free will but also with less suffering one in which we would want to live?
Keep reading Show less
Surprising Science

How to fool a shark using magnets

A simple trick allowed marine biologists to prove a long-held suspicion.

Quantcast