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Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Chasing the cure

New Alzheimer’s drug offers hope for treating a difficult disease. It must be backed by more substantive trials.

By: Editorial |
November 7, 2019 12:15:41 am
Alzheimer’s disease, Alzheimer’s curing drug, Alzheimer’s disease medication, Alzheimer’s disease new drug,, Alzheimer’s chinese medicine The new drug, Oligomannate, a sugar derived from a Chinese seaweed, works by modifying gut bacteria to reduce inflammation in the brain.

For nearly two decades, doctors treating Alzheimer’s patients have been frustrated by the lack of advance in medical research. The most advanced drug that is used to treat the disease was developed in 2003. Now news from China has provided a ray of hope for curing a disease that has been one of the biggest headaches for healthcare systems globally since it was first identified in 1906 by the German physician, Alois Alzheimer. On Monday, the Chinese drug regulator approved a medicine that improves cognitive functions in patients with mild to moderate levels of the disease. This is a significant breakthrough because drugs currently in use treat the neuro-degenerative disorder symptomatically at best, leaving doctors almost helpless about elderly patients who may forget familiar facts and, at times, even the faces of family members.

The new drug, Oligomannate, a sugar derived from a Chinese seaweed, works by modifying gut bacteria to reduce inflammation in the brain. Green Valley, the Chinese biotech company that has developed the drug, claims that a clinical trial on 818 people “demonstrated solid and consistent cognition improvement among those treated versus a control group”. The method adopted by the Chinese researchers is a departure from Alzheimer’s drug development that has focussed on attacking the plaque that forms in the brains of patients; this protein build-up interferes with neural signaling. Last year, pharma major El Lilly threw in the towel during the final stages of trials of a drug that targets the plaque accumulation in brain cells, leading researchers to think of alternate disease pathways — the microbiome, for instance.

There is, however, good reason for tempering the optimism around the new drug. In China, the regulatory agency has asked Green Valley to conduct more research on Oligomannate’s safety — it has, however, allowed the company to market the drug by the last week of December. The complete data on how exactly the cognitive function improved for patients on the drug versus those on placebo — and how meaningful that was in the patients’ lives — is still not known outside select circles in China. Moreover, Oligomannate must be tested on diverse groups of people to be affirmed as a panacea for Alzheimer’s globally. And, these trials need to include many more than 818 individuals. Once knowledge on the mode of action of the Chinese seaweed spreads among medical researchers worldwide, more potent compounds could be developed to target Alzheimer’s — and mitigate a difficult challenge to the health and dignity of at least 50 million elderly people.

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