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Alzheimer's drug add-on brings some memory improvement

March 11, 2013|By Melissa Healy
  • An experimental drug shows some promise in braking, or perhaps even reversing, the progression of Alzheimer's disease, new trial results show.
An experimental drug shows some promise in braking, or perhaps even reversing,… (Michael Robinson Chavez…)

In patients with moderate Alzheimer's disease, an experimental drug that alters the brain's "fight or flight" impulse succeeded in improving memory modestly when it was added to at least one of the medications already in wide use to treat the memory-robbing disease.

Compared with subjects taking the drug memantine and a placebo, subjects supplementing their customary drug regimen for three months with the experimental drug--ORM-12741--scored more highly on two measures of memory. One of those tested the quality of patients' memory overall; the other tested the quality of patients' "episodic memory"--the ability to recall events and experiences from one's own past.

In subjects taking the lower of the two doses tested, researchers at Finnish drug developer Orion Pharmaceuticals found a slight improvement in working memory--the ability to hold several items in memory for a minute or two. But the benefits were too small to be reliably attributed to the drug.

During the 12-week study period, the performance of subjects on memantine-plus-placebo on memory tests declined on average 33%. Those who took memantine-plus-ORM-12741 improved their scores on overall memory function by 4%.

Available drugs to treat Alzheimer's disease have only moderate effects on the symptoms of the disease but have never been found to halt or reverse the steady progression of Alzheimer's. Researchers are exploring a wide range of approaches to find drugs that could do that but have so far come up empty.

ORM-12741 is called an-alpha 2C adreno-receptor antagonist, meaning it acts to tamp down activity in the parts of the brain that respond to the release of adrenaline. Rodents bred to exhibit Alzheimer's-like symptoms and treated with the agent in earlier trials appeared to improve their memory and ability to function.

Inasmuch as the current study suggested slight improvement with three months of ORM-12741 use, it may encourage the nation's 5.4 million people with Alzheimer's disease.

"Anytime you have a drug that targets a new pathway in the brain and shows effectiveness in clinical trials, it is exciting," said the study's lead author, Dr. Juha Rouru of Orion Pharma, in a statement released Monday.

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