A treatment for dementia, 40 years in the making

Florey scientists have been at the forefront of the biggest breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s disease research for four decades, with their latest success coming in the form of a new treatment for the condition.

Working with pharmaceutical company Eisai, The Florey’s Professor Colin Masters AO assisted in the global clinical trial of lecanemab – a medication that recently received approval for use in the United States to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

In his role as the Australia Dementia Network’s (ADNeT) Clinical Trials Lead, Professor Masters helped to recruit participants and determine the efficacy of the drug. ADNeT’s national network of dementia experts, headed by Florey researcher Professor Chris Rowe, is committed to the prevention, treatment and better care for people living with the condition.

The global clinical trial results found that lecanemab clears a build-up of a protein known as Aβ-amyloid from the brain. This amyloid is effectively a plaque in the brain, and the trial showed cognitive decline was reduced by 27% in those who received lecanemab.

The breakthrough marks decades of work by Professor Masters, given it was his research in 1985 that showed amyloid had this detrimental effect on the brain – laying the foundation for the development of lecanemab and other treatments that target this protein.

“It has been 25 years since Eisai launched a symptomatic therapy, Aricept, and now for the first time we can clearly see the way forward for true disease modification,” said Professor Masters.

“There is a strong expectation that novel antibodies like those in lecanemab will be more effective in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease, particularly in the preclinical stage, before any symptoms are present.”

Professors Masters and Rowe, along with their team, have already made significant advances in diagnostic strategies to help identify Alzheimer’s disease in these early stages using PET imaging, which could also aid the effectiveness of drugs like lecanemab in the future.

“While lecanemab is not a cure, it is the first time a therapy has been able to provide real benefit to those living with Alzheimer’s disease.”