Dr. Luc Boulay
Director, Medical Affairs and Neuroscience, Eli Lilly Canada
Secretary General, International Federation on Ageing
A promising new discovery in Alzheimer’s disease treatment represents a rare win in a notoriously challenging field.
Emerging Alzheimer’s treatment research is giving new hope to people living with Alzheimer’s, their caregivers, and health-care providers. This is especially promising given that over the years, many pharmaceutical companies have tried and failed to find an effective treatment for this progressive brain-atrophying disease, which affects approximately 570,000 Canadians and costs our economy and health-care system over $10.4 billion annually. A breakthrough could change how we treat the disease and change millions of lives.
Promising new research
“Over the years, there have been several attempts by pharmaceutical companies to demonstrate that experimental treatments designed to remove amyloid beta (Aβ) plaques from the brains of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease have an effect on slowing cognitive and functional decline,” says Dr. Luc Boulay, Director of Medical Affairs and Neuroscience at Eli Lilly Canada. “However, results have largely been negative and unclear.”
Recently, though, research has highlighted the effectiveness of a promising new Alzheimer’s drug. The new data is very good news. “The trial’s preliminary results demonstrate that reducing Aβ has a measurable effect on slowing cognitive and functional decline,” says Dr. Boulay. “This is the important link that the field has been looking for.”
Exploring the amyloid hypothesis
The new data supports a bigger hypothesis — the amyloid hypothesis — that has floated around the Alzheimer’s field, unverified, since the mid-‘80s.
“The premise behind the amyloid hypothesis lies in the idea that Aβ deposits and plaques in the brain is a critical step in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. Boulay. “So far, there have been several experimental treatments that have demonstrated that they can effectively remove Aβ. However, they haven’t demonstrated a clear benefit in terms of slowing disease progression.”
The emerging new science supports the long-standing theory about removing Aβ deposits, showing that delaying the advance of this debilitating disease is possible for people with early Alzheimer’s. It’s a positive advancement for those affected by the disease and promises to drive more research into new treatments.
Looking toward a brighter future
New disease-modifying medicines will reshape not only approaches to Alzheimer’s treatment but also approaches to diagnosis and care.
“We’ll need an infrastructure geared toward the early identification of people who will benefit most from these revolutionary treatments,” says Dr. Boulay.
As it stands, stigma and lack of awareness of neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s impact early diagnosis rates. “Our society lacks general awareness of the consequences of neurological conditions,” says Jane Barratt, Secretary General at the International Federation on Ageing. “As a result, people with neurological symptoms often don’t go to the doctor until the symptoms are quite visible.”
As Barratt notes, early diagnosis is critically important in treating diseases like Alzheimer’s and delaying diagnosis results in inadequate management and treatment of the condition.
“Our health-care system needs to be reoriented to a prevention and promotion model rather than just focusing on curing sickness,” Barratt adds.
Although we still have a long way to go, the future of Alzheimer’s treatment is getting brighter.