Doctors hail jab that can stop Alzheimer's in its tracks for three years
Drug is still in the very early stages of developmentFurther tests on patients could take several years

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UPDATED:

00:53 GMT, 18 July 2012

A jab that halts the devastating symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease is being developed by scientists.

Early trials have shown it holds back memory loss, confusion and the inability to carry out daily tasks for three years.

At present, the small number of drugs available can only treat the symptoms and ‘buy patients time’, slowing down the decline by up to six months.

New hope: An elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer's disease (file picture), which could be halted by a new drug

New hope: An elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer's disease (file picture), which could be halted by a new drug

But patients who have been given the
new jab every two weeks for the last three years have not suffered any
further progression in their symptoms.

Alzheimer’s is caused when deposits called amyloid proteins form in the brain.

The new vaccine, called IVIG, works
in a completely different way to other drugs by teaching the immune
system to target these deposits so they cannot increase.

Campaigners believe it could be
available within the next ten years. Professor Clive Ballard, director
of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘This is probably the most
exciting drug [for Alzheimer’s] we know about that is currently in the
late stages of research.

‘We now know it is safe but the real
test will be whether these initial promising results can be replicated
in larger groups. One in three people over 65 will develop dementia.

'While finding a cure is the Holy
Grail of dementia research, it is also vital that we continue to fund
studies like this if we are to develop more treatments to help people to
live well with the condition.’

Early trials have shown it halts the devastating symptoms of memory loss, confusion and inability to carry out daily tasks

Early trials have shown it halts the devastating symptoms of memory loss, confusion and inability to carry out daily tasks

Scientists also hope that if the
patients in the trial continue to be given the jab, it will halt their
symptoms for several more years.

As it is still in the very early
stages of development, its manufacturers, Baxter, do not know how much
it will cost. So far it has only been tested on 24 patients in ‘phase
two’ trials.

Baxter must now carry out tests on
hundreds more patients, which may take several years. Scientists will
then look at the results of these ‘phase three’ trials to check the
vaccine is effective and safe.

'This drug has a very different approach
to the other available treatments. The four available drugs can only buy
people time for six months.'

Dr Anne Corbett

Around 800,000 Britons are estimated to suffer some form of dementia, of whom 450,000 have Alzheimer’s.

At present there are only four drugs
available for Alzheimer’s and at best, they can only halt symptoms for a
maximum of six months.

Aricept, Exelon and Reminyl are given
to patients on the NHS who have mild to moderate forms of Alzheimer’s.
Exiba is offered to patients in the more advanced stages of the illness.

IVIG – short for intravenous immunoglobin – has so far only been given to patients in the early stages of the illness.

But scientists hope it will also be
effective for those who have had the disease for a number of years. It
is not designed to treat other forms of dementia.

Dr Anne Corbett, of the Alzheimer’s
Society, said: ‘It’s a big step in the right direction. I dislike the
word breakthrough, probably because I am a scientist.

‘But if we see it’s just as effective in phase three trials then we could call it a breakthrough.’

The findings of the trial were
presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in
Vancouver, Canada, yesterday.