Promising research finds this common HIV drug may also help beat Alzheimer’s disease

Confused or upset older man
Posed by the model (Photo: Shutterstock)

There has been encouraging news in recent days regarding the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

The brain disorder slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and eventually the ability to perform even simple tasks.

It appeared that an existing drug already used to treat HIV could have benefits in treating the disease.

Researchers from the UK Dementia Research Institute at the University of Cambridge, England, say maraviroc (Selzentry) helps eliminate unwanted proteins in the brain. Eliminating these proteins helps slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-related disorders.

“We are very excited about these findings because we have not only uncovered a new mechanism for how our microglia accelerate neurodegeneration, but we have also shown that this process can be interrupted, potentially even with existing, safe treatment,” l author, Professor David Rubinsztein of the UK Institute for Dementia Research, University of Cambridge, said in a press release.

Microglia are the resident immune cells of the brain. When they become faulty, they can accelerate damage to nerve cells instead of protecting them.

The researchers studied mice with Huntington’s disease, a genetic disease that causes symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease. They said maraviroc helps prevent the buildup of harmful plaque deposits on nerve cells. It is this process that eventually prevents them from working properly.

They said if treatment is started before symptoms become pronounced, it can slow down memory loss.

“Maraviroc may not in itself be the silver bullet, but it does show a possible way forward,” Rubinsztein said.

“During the development of this drug as a treatment for HIV, a number of other candidates failed along the way because they were not effective against HIV. We can see that one of them works effectively in humans to prevent neurodegenerative diseases.

New drug slows Alzheimer’s disease progression by a third

The second piece of good news concerns a new drug, donanemab. Pharmaceutical giant Lilly claims the drug slowed disease progression by 35% compared to a placebo in 1,182 people with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.

Last year, the FDA approved Lecanemab (marketed as Leqembi), made by biotech companies Biogen and Eisai. This treatment slows the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by about 27%. Donanemab works by a similar mechanism but goes beyond lecanemab.

“The decades-long battle to find life-changing treatments for Alzheimer’s disease is changing,” Dr Cath Mummery, from the UK’s National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, told BBC News.

“We are now entering the era of disease modification, where we could realistically hope to treat and maintain someone with Alzheimer’s disease, with long-term disease management rather than palliative care and Support.”

Donanemab has not yet been submitted for approval. It also has serious side effects. About a third of study participants experienced brain swelling. Two died directly as a result of this side effect.

Alzheimer’s is a debilitating disease. Its impact on those affected and those who care for them cannot be underestimated. Until recently, effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease were non-existent. Although none of the drugs above are a “cure”, they offer hope that an effective treatment may be on the horizon.

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