New Drug Hailed as "Turning Point" in Fight Against Alzheimer's Disease

Scientists are calling a new drug called donanemab a "turning point" in the fight against Alzheimer's, the BBC reports, with a major trial showing a significant slowing down in cognitive decline.

It may not be a cure — but it's a notable step in the right direction that could allow those suffering from the disease to live longer, less-impeded lives. And in the gloomy world of dementia treatments, where promising new pharmaceuticals have a habit of withering under scrutiny, that could be a big deal.

As detailed in a new paper published in the journal JAMA, researchers conducted a global trial involving 1,736 people aged 60 to 85 with early-stage Alzheimer's. Half the participants received a placebo, while the other half received monthly infusions of the drug over 18 months.

The results were promising. According to the study, the treatment "significantly slowed clinical progression" over that time period "among participants with early symptomatic Alzheimer disease."

More specifically, the drug produced by pharmaceutical Eli Lilly slowed cognitive decline in patients by around 35 percent.

As the BBC notes, the drug works in a similar way to another drug called lecanemab, which made headlines last year. Trials at the time showed that the drug reduced cognitive decline by 27 percent in patients experiencing the early stage of Alzheimer's — a rare one-two punch that could, if you squint hard enough, even look like progressively effective treatments against the devastating condition.

"We now have two potentially life-changing Alzheimer’s treatments on the horizon and we need to see rapid regulatory decisions so people who could benefit from these treatments aren’t left in limbo," Susan Kohlhaas, the executive director of research and partnerships at Alzheimer’s Research UK, told The Guardian.

"After 20 years without new Alzheimer’s medicines, people affected by this disease deserve to have answers about new treatments as quickly as possible," she added.

But there are drawbacks to these drugs as well. Neither drug is risk-free. During the donanemab trial, scientists observed serious side-effects including brain swelling, which led to three deaths in the group of participants — and, curiously, one death in the placebo group as well.

Despite the risks, even the Alzheimer's Society is hailing Eli Lilly's latest drug as a huge success.

"This is truly a turning point in the fight against Alzheimer’s, and science is proving that it is possible to slow down the disease," Richard Oakley, an associate director of research and innovation at Alzheimer’s Society, told The Guardian.

"Treatments like donanemab are the first steps towards a future where Alzheimer’s disease could be considered a long-term condition alongside diabetes or asthma," he added, "people may have to live with it, but they could have treatments that allow them to effectively manage their symptoms and continue to live fulfilled lives."

More on Alzheimer's: Scientists Intrigued by Man With Mutation That Protects Against Alzheimer's