Hope in Alzheimer’s trial drug

The West Australian - - NEWS - Cathy O’Leary Med­i­cal Ed­i­tor

The fam­ily of a WA grand­fa­ther tak­ing part in a drug trial that could rev­o­lu­tionise the treat­ment of early Alzheimer’s dis­ease are cau­tiously op­ti­mistic it has helped him.

Man­durah 79-year-old Richard Lea re­cently fin­ished a 12-week course of Xanamem, a drug of­fer­ing a new ap­proach to Alzheimer’s by tar­get­ing cor­ti­sol, a stress hor­mone in the brain.

His wife Jean, 76, said she had no­ticed improvements in his abil­ity to think and re­mem­ber — and even ne­go­ti­ate their com­pli­cated dual tele­vi­sion re­mote con­trols.

With the fi­nal pa­tients re­cruited last week, the much-an­tic­i­pated re­sults of the Xanadu drug trial by biotech com­pany Actino­gen Med­i­cal are due to be re­leased within six months.

It is the first global study to in­ves­ti­gate a treat­ment that specif­i­cally tar­gets ex­ces­sive cor­ti­sol in the brain, which has been linked to de­men­tia — the sec­ond big­gest killer of West Aus­tralians.

In Aus­tralia, about half of 65year-olds have per­sis­tently raised cor­ti­sol lev­els and could be at risk of de­vel­op­ing Alzheimer’s.

While there is no guar­an­tee Mr Lea re­ceived the ac­tive drug rather than a placebo, Mrs Lea said she was con­fi­dent she had seen changes in him.

Un­til a few years ago, Mr Lea was ac­tive and healthy, en­joy­ing danc­ing, pen­nant darts and play­ing cards. He was sharp as a tack, help­ing de­sign web­sites and able to add up num­bers in his head be­fore any­one else.

Iron­i­cally, he was di­ag­nosed as a re­sult of be­ing on a Perth trial with his wife to see if re­searchers could pro­tect healthy peo­ple from get­ting Alzheimer’s.

It meant the cou­ple had reg­u­lar cog­ni­tive tests and ear­lier this year a doc­tor pulled Mrs Lea to one side one day with news that stunned her.

“They told me that Richard ac­tu­ally had Alzheimer’s and it re­ally hit me in the guts,” she said. “I was shat­tered and ini­tially I didn’t tell him be­cause I was wor­ried about the ef­fect it would have on him.

“In hind­sight, there were some things I had no­ticed like when we were play­ing cards and he sud­denly didn’t seem to know how to play and when we went danc­ing he was out of step with the mu­sic.

“I had thought per­haps it was Alzheimer’s but to be told by doc­tors was still a shock.”

Soon af­ter his di­ag­no­sis, Mr Lea was on the Xanadu drug trial to treat Alzheimer’s rather than pre­vent it.

“Richard has be­come more so­cia­ble and even wants to do his own golf scor­ing again,” Mrs Lea said. “We don’t know for sure if it’s the drug and it could be wish­ful think­ing but I’m re­ally pleased with the changes I’ve seen in him.

“Re­gard­less, we have chil­dren and grand­chil­dren and Richard agreed to par­tic­i­pate in this trial with the hope that re­searchers can help find solutions in the fu­ture.”

Univer­sity of WA as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor Roger Clar­nette, who is med­i­cal di­rec­tor of the Aus­tralian Alzheimer’s Re­search Foun­da­tion, stressed it was a phase two study that pri­mar­ily looked at the safety of the drug.

“But if we do iden­tify data that in­di­cates it may be clin­i­cally ef­fec­tive, the next step would be to launch a phase three study and re­cruit many more peo­ple,” he said.

Pic­ture: Steve Fer­rier

Jean Lea with hus­band Richard, who took part in the Xanadu drug trial.

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