Can dementia be cured?

The short answer is “not yet”. But there is hope. A few years ago, big pharma decided to drop their pursuit of finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease (AD), having been thwarted by repeated failures, expensive research, and not too many promising leads. Man’s brilliance is yet to uncover a complete cure for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) conditions. However, apart from being a creature of intelligence, we humans are also determined to keep pressing on, one step at a time, until a cure is found. This is where our story of breakthroughs begins. Back when all hope seemed lost for those suffering from AD or one of the many forms of dementia, a small Swedish start-up was determined to continue the journey.

Background: What causes Alzheimer’s disease?

Studies have shown that dementia patients, including Alzheimer’s patients, have an ‘Arctic Mutation’ gene in their DNA that causes the production of amyloid beta proteins in the brain. This protein builds up over the years, leading to the formation of the characteristic plaques and tangles. These plaques can only be detected in an MRI, CT scan, or advanced blood test in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

A new era in Dementia and Alzheimer’s treatment

2023 heralded a new era in the history of dementia and AD treatment when the FDA granted the BioArctic, Eisai, and Biogen collaboration an accelerated approval in January to bring their discovery, lecanemab, to patients at large. The approval was the result of a Phase 3 clinical trial that showed that lecanemab could slow the rate of cognitive decline in early-stage Alzheimer’s patients by 27%. Enough to extend early-stage Alzheimer’s patients’ quality of life for a few more years.

While the drug is not without side effects, extensive research and testing will help researchers develop a solution whose side effects are minimal.

How does lecanemab work?

Lecanemab is an anti-Amyloid Beta (Aβ) immunotherapy drug. Based on the “amyloid hypothesis”, Alzheimer’s patients show a progressive build-up of Aβ proteins in their brains. These proteins begin as small soluble strands but begin to clump together to form plaques and tangles across the brain as the years go by.

Lecanemab, however, is not effective in later stages of AD and dementia and is suited to early-stage patients where the Aβ proteins are just beginning to build up.

Are there other treatments for Alzheimer’s disease?

While BioArctic originated Lecanemab, Eli Lily – one of the few companies that had not completely given up on researching AD, found that a similar anti-Amyloid Beta (Aβ) immunotherapy drug – donanemab, was effective in reducing plaques – which are more solid forms of the Aβ protein. This drug showed a 35% reduction in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Remarkably, donanemab has also received accelerated approval by the FDA to benefit the millions suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

How soon can these breakthrough drugs be improved upon to minimize side effects?

Excitement around such a solution has piqued the interest of big pharma once again. Researchers and investors have come to realize that real wins mean real revenues and real wins in treating Alzheimer’s are now a reality.

Just as breakthroughs in cancer treatment led to a tremendous decrease in the number of cancer-related deaths globally, there is the incentive to improve the lives of the 55 million people affected by dementia worldwide. This in turn will lower healthcare expenditures that governments or healthcare agencies bear. For instance, it is estimated that the UK government spends £25 billion annually on dementia and AD care and treatment. It’s only a matter of time before start-ups together with large pharma manufacturers drive research efforts into improved treatments.

But there’s a catch

For improved drugs and treatment options to be tested, researchers need to find early-stage dementia candidates who are willing to participate in clinical trials and randomized studies that can verify the efficacy and safety of newer treatments.

The solution

Just as there are global campaigns to raise awareness about the prevention and early detection of diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease, stakeholders such as the government, WHO, the Alzheimer’s Association, and other organizations must launch awareness programs.

As people become increasingly aware of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, their response will be to take steps to approach medical practitioners to help them detect early-stage dementia.

How to diagnose dementia?

Healthcare practitioners use an array of diagnostic tests to check whether a candidate actually has dementia or Alzheimer’s or is suffering from some other root cause that has symptoms similar to those of dementia and Alzheimer’s. These tests can cost an average of $5000 and include:

  •   Medical history examination
  •   Depression screen
  •   Physical exam and diagnostic tests
  •   Brain imaging (MRI or CT scans)
  •   Neurological exam
  •   Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) tests
  •   Cognitive, functional, and behavioral tests
  •   Blood tests

The missing link: early-stage detection of Alzheimer’s

Owing to the ambiguity behind diagnosis and the high cost, 50-80% of the world’s Alzheimer’s patients remain undiagnosed. That’s why an innovator – Cognes has developed an easy-access tool in the form of a mobile app, that healthcare practitioners and suspected Dementia patients could use to determine whether they have Dementia or Alzheimer’s or not.

While the Cognes app is not a replacement for a registered medical practitioner’s diagnosis, it is a valuable tool in helping doctors and researchers identify early-stage Dementia patients much more quickly and cost-effectively than previously possible.

Leave us a message to learn more about Cognes and how it can add value to you!