POSTED: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - 4:00am
UPDATED: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - 4:04am
MEDICAL NEWS (CNN) — Finding drugs that can halt or reverse the effects of Alzheimer's disease is one of the holy grails in pharmaceutical research.
While the already-approved Aricept and Namenda medications have shown promise for temporarily easing symptoms, what's desperately needed are treatments that will reverse or prevent the brain decline produced by Alzheimer's.
Researchers are seeing promising results of the first long-term clinical trial that measured stabilization of Alzheimer's symptoms, including thinking, memory, daily functioning and mood. The early stage results were presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, this week.
The treatment, Gammagard by Baxter, is an intravenous immune therapy that is already approved for treating other immune disorders and infections.
The small study of Gammagard included 16 subjects with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease who agreed to continue the study for three years. What's exciting about the results of this trial is that it's the first study to report symptom stabilization without decline over that longer time span.
In addition to the Gammagard findings, researchers reported updates on three new pre-symptomatic Alzheimer's disease studies that are scheduled to begin in the near future. Because recent clinical trials have produced disappointing results, there's a belief among many Alzheimer's researchers that the key to cracking the code for treatment success is by testing therapies on people who are predisposed to Alzheimer's disease, yet are not symptomatic.
Several trials in the future will focus on that, including trials in a rare population living near Medallion Columbia that is prone to genetically-caused, early onset Alzheimers.
"Improving detection technologies and updated diagnostic guidelines are enabling the detection of early changes in the brain and subtle cognitive deficits that are consistent with what is known as pre-symptomatic Alzheimer's," according to William Thies, the Alzheimer's Association chief medical and scientific officer.
Thies says people in this group are the ideal subjects to prevention trials, which might delay or slow the progression of their disease.
Approximately 5.4 million Americans live with Alzheimer's disease and it's the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S. Alzheimer's is the most common type of dementia, a term used to describe memory and intellectual loss severe enough to interfere with daily activities. It's caused when deposits of proteins form in the brain and preventing it from properly functioning.