Lori Weiss always feared that Alzheimer’s would one day come to claim her, robbing her of her independence and memories.
The former teacher from Portland, Oregon had already seen the cruel disease, the leading cause of dementia, ravage her mother, grandfather, several aunts and uncles and one cousin before her own diagnosis.
But thanks to a game-changing new drug called donanemab, proven to slow the mental decline of the disease by up to 60 per cent, Ms Weiss, 65, is enjoying a new lease of life.
Prior to taking the drug, she found herself unable to drive, getting confused at intersections she previously knew off by heart.
‘The big impact was getting my sense of direction back,’ she told The Times.
Lori Weiss, 65, a retired teacher from Oregon, said she has reclaimed her independence thanks to the new Alzheimer’s drug
Donanemab is given to Alzheimer’s patients through an IV infusion once a month. The monoclonal antibody — a man-made version of proteins produced by the body to fight-off harmful substances — travels to the brain. Once inside the organ, donanemab binds to toxic build-ups of amyloid plaque — a hallmark sign of the memory-robbing disease. This prompts immune cells, known as microglia, to clear them
‘Before I took the drug, I’d get to an intersection and wouldn’t recognise where I was and I had to stop driving.
‘Now I can drive anywhere and can pick up my friends and take them to Alzheimer’s painting class and we have a blast and I can get them home safely.
‘I’ve got my independence back.’
Ms Weiss is now also able to enjoy her love of reading again.
Before taking donanemab, given as a monthly infusion, she struggled to recall what she had read just a moment before.
Ms Weiss said she first noticed problems with her memory back in 2019, when she started to struggle to answer pupils’ questions and remembering how to fill in spreadsheets at work.
This eventually led to a diagnosis of cognitive impairment in 2020, before a scan in 2022 revealed a build-up of the amyloid protein in her brain, the tell-tale sign of Alzheimer’s.
Ms Weiss signed up for a safety trial of donanemab and was on the drug from January 2022 until May this year.
She added that the success of the drug has not only given her hope but also her sons, who had been worried about their own risk of Alzheimer’s in the future.
Earlier this week US pharma giant Eli Lilly said donanemab can thwart the disease’s progression by up to 60 per cent, when it unveiled the final trial results.
The drug is a monoclonal antibody, a man-made version of proteins naturally made by the body to fight-off harmful substances.
Once it arrives at the brain it binds to builds up amyloid plaque flagging them for removal by the body’s immune system.
However, like with any medical treatment, the drug is not risk-free.
Serious side effects such as brain swelling and bleeds were seen among some of the patients, as well as three deaths linked to taking the medication.
Eli Lilly expects to apply for approval to sell the drug in the UK within the next six months.
Experts hope this means that it will become available on the NHS as soon as 2025.
Changes in humour and swearing more are all signs of Alzheimer’s and frontotemporal dementia (FTD) ¿ a type of dementia that causes problems with behaviour and language. According to experts bad parking, and dressing scruffy are also signs of the memory-robbing disease. Graphic shows: Six signs of Alzheimer’s disease
Researchers today unveiled that donanemab slowed cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s patients by an average of 35 per cent by removing toxic plaques in the brain
While described as a game-changer in the decades long search for effective by Alzheimer’s treatments by some experts, others have poured cold water on the findings.
Some experts have said figures on its effectiveness are based on patient test results from an Alzheimer’s assessment, taken at the beginning and end of an 18-month study.
Critics added that the improvements are therefore is ‘a bit of a mirage’ and the drug’s effects may not even be noticeable to patients or their families.
However, other scientists have said the results could make Alzheimer’s a manageable condition, similar to asthma or diabetes, and have called on UK regulators to issue ‘rapid’ decisions to ensure patients can benefit.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will determine if both drugs are safe for UK use, under the first step of approval.
Drugs watchdog NICE will then assess whether they are cost effective for the NHS.
The first-generation drugs are hoped to pave the way for even more effective future therapies.
Charities also called on health officials to ensure the UK is ready to roll out this initial wave of treatments, which have the potential to help 720,000 people.
While welcoming the ‘new era’ in treatment, they warned only 2 per cent of patients could receive the drug at present because diagnosis in Britain is inadequate.
Around 850,000 Britons and 5.8million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease.
The disease is the leading cause of dementia, a condition where suffers have an impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interferes with doing everyday activities.
Dementia affects 900,000 people in the UK and an estimated 7million in the US.
The condition is considered a global health concern as people live longer. It puts an increasing burden on health care systems including in the UK.
Treating and caring for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is estimated to cost Britain £25billion each year, according to Alzheimer’s Research UK, the vast majority of that being in social care spending.
What is donanemab?
Donanemab teaches the body’s immune system to target harmful proteins, called amyloids, and destroy them. Amyloid build-ups are thought to be toxic to brain cells, eventually causing them to die, leading to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Alongside lecanemab, the drug is one of the first treatments designed to tackle the underlying disease and stop it worsening.
How is it given?
The treatment is given once a month, intravenously, via an infusion or drip. Patients would therefore need to be treated in hospital or a suitable ‘infusion’ centre. During the trial, people were treated for up to 18 months but were often found to be free from amyloids within six months.
Any side effects?
Researchers found some serious side effects, such as brain swelling and bleeds. Three participants died, which researchers said was linked to their treatment. Deaths have also occurred in trials of other similar, rival drugs.
Who would be eligible?
Patients would need to be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and have amyloid protein build-up in the brain. Around 720,000 people could be eligible but currently only 2 per cent receive the necessary diagnosis through specialist investigations.
When might the drug be available?
Eli Lilly, the US pharmaceutical company behind the drug, said it would be applying to European regulators within six months. This includes the Medical and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency which must give the legal go-ahead before any drug can be considered for use in the UK. It would then need to be reviewed by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence to consider its cost-effectiveness, alongside its clinical benefits and side effects. It means the earliest donanemab could be available on the NHS is 2025.
Are we ready for it?
Not as it stands. Experts say the resource implications of delivering treatments like this are enormous. The NHS would need to train a skilled workforce to deliver the drugs, with investment in many more brain scans and infusion suites. It has just 88 PET scanners that can detect amyloid plaques, one of the lowest rates in the developed world.
What does this mean for prevention or cure?
‘Finally there is some hope,’ said John Sims of Eli Lilly when presenting the new results yesterday. This hope has been decades in the making and there is now significant promise in tackling the root causes of the disease. But while it is right this is hailed as a major breakthrough, there is still a long way to go before we can say we have beaten dementia.
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