Lecanemab: New Alzheimer’s drug slows decline in memory – fuelling hope doctors will one day cure dementia
Doctors have hailed a “new era” of medicine after a study showed for the first time that a drug can slow the debilitating symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Results from the clinical trial also revealed that the drug lecanemab cleared clumps of a protein called amyloid – thought to be a key cause of the most common form of dementia – from patients’ brains.
The data, published at a conference in San Francisco, led to an outpouring of optimism from scientists, many of whom had spent decades trying to understand what leads to the disease and find a treatment.
Rob Howard, professor of old age psychiatry at University College London, said the results were “wonderful and hope-filled” – adding: “At long last we have gained some traction on this most terrible and feared disease and the years of research and investment have finally paid off.
“It feels momentous and historic. This will encourage real optimism that dementia can be beaten and one day even cured.”
The manufacturers of the drug released top-line results in a news release earlier in the autumn, but many doctors held back from celebrating until full results were released at the Clinical Trials on Alzheimer’s Disease conference.
They showed that lecanemab slowed the decline in memory and mental agility by 27% in patients with mild Alzheimer’s.
‘Doctors are optimistic’
Critically, the drug removed so much of the amyloid protein that the patients wouldn’t have had enough evidence of Alzheimer’s disease on their brain scans to actually qualify for entry to the trial.
The study strongly suggests that the drug only starts to have a clinical effect once amyloid is reduced to low levels in the brain.
Results after 12 months of treatment suggested it was ineffective – but after 18 months, the effect was significant.
Doctors are optimistic that continued treatment will lead to even better results.
Professor Nick Fox, director of the Dementia Research Centre at University College London, said: “It confirms a new era of disease modification for Alzheimer’s disease, an era that comes after more than 20 years of hard work by many, many people, with many disappointments along the way.”
Lecanemab is not a cure. But even slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease would be game changing, delaying the need for specialist care and allowing people to spend more time with their families.
However, the drug has side effects.
One in eight patients given lecanemab suffered brain swelling and other changes, probably as a result of removing the amyloid protein. But most only had evidence of problems on brain scans. Fewer than one in 30 had actual symptoms such as headaches or confusion.
Some patients had bleeding in the brain, though deaths were no higher in those receiving treatment than those given a dummy drug.
Nevertheless, it underlines the need for careful monitoring of those on treatment.
Prof Fox said: “Any risk is clearly important, but I believe that many of my patients would be very willing to take such a risk.
‘Massive challenge for the NHS’
Doctors warned that lecanemab will be a massive challenge for the NHS, not just because the drug is given through an intravenous infusion every two weeks.
Most Alzheimer’s patients are currently diagnosed when they have moderate symptoms – too late for treatment with lecanemab. And just 1% have their diagnosis confirmed by a brain scan or lumbar puncture, a biopsy of their spinal fluid.
Susan Kohlhaas, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK said: “It’s safe to say that the NHS is not ready for a new era of dementia treatment.
“We estimate that unless there are drastic changes in how people access specialist diagnostic tests for Alzheimer’s disease, only 2% of people eligible for drugs like lecanemab will be able to access them.”
Until now there have only been drugs that treated symptoms rather than the underlying cause. But if lecanemab is licensed for use on the NHS then delays in treatment will result in brain cells dying and the disease progressing.
Prof John Hardy, from the UK Dementia Research Institute in London said the drug had been “a long time coming”.
He added: “I truly believe it represents the beginning of the end.
“The first step is the hardest, and we now know exactly what we need to do to develop effective drugs. It’s exciting to think that future work will build on this, and we will soon have life-changing treatments to tackle this disease.”
US vice president Kamala Harris demands ‘immediate ceasefire’ in Gaza, calling for Hamas to accept terms – as Israel ‘boycotts’ talks
US vice president Kamala Harris has said there must be an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza as she called on the Israeli government to do more to increase the flow of aid, with “no excuses”.
Ms Harris said a six-week ceasefire would get Israeli hostages out and get a significant amount of aid into the war-ravaged Palestinian territory.
She said people were “starving” and Israel needed to increase the flow of life-saving assistance to ease what she described as “inhumane” conditions and a “humanitarian catastrophe”. Her comments are among the strongest by a senior US official over the crisis.
The vice president also said there is a “deal on the table” and Hamas “needs to agree to that”.
“Let’s get a ceasefire. Let’s reunite the hostages with their families. And let’s provide immediate relief to the people of Gaza,” she said.
Although a Hamas delegation is in Egypt for the latest truce talks, Israel has reportedly boycotted them.
Israeli media says it is because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not got an answer from Hamas on two questions – a list of hostages who are alive in Gaza and the number of Palestinian prisoners Hamas wants released in exchange for each hostage.
Ms Harris is due on Monday to meet top Israeli politician Benny Gantz, who will also have talks in Washington with US secretary of state Antony Blinken, national security adviser Jake Sullivan, and Republican and Democratic members of Congress.
Although Mr Gantz is in Mr Netanyahu’s war cabinet, he is also a centrist political rival and is thought to have been rebuked by the Israeli prime minister for those planned discussions in America.
Fresh truce could be highly significant
There is increasing hope that a new hostage deal can be agreed between Israel and Hamas in time for the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a week from now, but time is running out and divisions remain between the sides.
Hamas has sent a delegation to Cairo to continue talks; Israel is yet to dispatch its own team and government sources have told Sky News that, among other things, they are still waiting for Hamas to provide information on the hostages they will release.
There are other points of difference, notably over which Palestinian prisoners Israel will agree to release in exchange and the status of Israeli forces inside Gaza, if a truce goes ahead.
An official from Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party said Mr Gantz’s visit was not authorised by the leader.
And the PM had a “tough talk” with Mr Gantz about the trip and told him the country has “just one prime minister”, according to the official.
Mr Gantz had told the PM of his intention to travel to the US and to co-ordinate messaging with him, added an official.
US efforts in the region have increasingly been hampered by Mr Netanyahu’s hardline cabinet, which ultra-nationalists dominate. Mr Gantz’s more moderate National Unity party sometimes acts as a counterweight to the PM’s far-right allies.
There are deep disagreements between Mr Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden over how to alleviate Palestinian suffering in Gaza and come up with a post-war vision for the enclave.
Speaking on Sunday in Selma, Alabama, Ms Harris said: “People in Gaza are starving. The conditions are inhumane and our common humanity compels us to act.
“The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses.”
A senior US official had said the path to a ceasefire was “straightforward and there’s a deal on the table”, with mediators returning to Egypt hoping to reach an agreement before Ramadan begins in a week.
The unidentified official spoke to the Reuters news agency ahead of the talks in Cairo, billed as the final hurdle to a six-week ceasefire.
Earlier on Sunday, the US said a deal had already been “more or less accepted” by Israel and was waiting for approval by Hamas militants.
But after the Hamas delegation arrived, a Palestinian official said the deal was “not yet there”. Hamas also reportedly wanted a permanent ceasefire to be part of any deal.
The war started after Hamas launched a cross-border attack on southern Israel on 7 October last year, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking more than 250 others hostage.
Israel retaliated with strikes and a military ground assault in Gaza which have so far killed more than 30,000 people, around two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
Around 80% of the population of 2.3 million have fled their homes, and UN agencies say hundreds of thousands are on the brink of famine.
More than 100 hostages in Gaza have been released.
Israel-Hamas war: Why this week could be critical for Gaza as US vice president shifts tone
Kamala Harris’s speech marked a shift in tone and maybe a subtle shift in language, but not much more than that. Yet the week ahead could still be critical.
The vice president spoke of the situation in Gaza as “devastating… a humanitarian catastrophe” and she had some pointed messaging for Israel – “it must increase flow of aid, restore basic services – no excuses”.
She echoed some of what President Joe Biden said on Friday when he called for “more routes to get more and more people the help they need. No excuses”.
There was a tonal shift, but beyond that her speech did not mark a policy change by the American administration.
The vice president was calling for a ceasefire, yes, but she was addressing Hamas, not Israel.
“Hamas claims it wants a ceasefire,” she said. “Well, there is a deal on the table. And as we have said, Hamas needs to agree to that deal.”
The framework of a deal to allow for a six-week ceasefire has been in place for a few weeks now. Despite talks in Doha, Paris and Cairo, the two sides have failed to find the common ground that would allow them to close the deal.
As we understand it, Israel has not sent a delegation to the latest round of talks this weekend in Cairo because Hamas has yet to respond to specific questions about the number of hostages still alive and about how many of the hostages it is willing to release in exchange for Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.
For context, there are thought to be 134 hostages still being held by Hamas in Gaza. The precise number still alive is not clear and Hamas said last week that seven had been killed during an Israeli airstrike.
Israel holds about 9,000 Palestinian prisoners, according to NGO groups, including 2,070 who have been sentenced for crimes (mostly in military courts), 2,656 remanded and a further 3,558 “administrative detainees” held without charge or trial on the grounds that they plan to break the law in the future.
There are currently more Palestinians held in administrative detention than at any other time in decades.
Hamas had demanded the release of thousands of Palestinians from Israeli prisons in exchange for hostages. This has been the main sticking point in the ceasefire negotiations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was “delusional” and Biden called it “over the top”. The swap ratio is key and unresolved.
And so, despite Harris’s Sunday evening words, there is no obvious shift yet in the talks. With a framework in place, agreement could come fast or it could remain deadlocked.
Biden’s ice cream parlour hope of a deal by the start of this week seems like wishful thinking. The start of Ramadan this coming weekend is a goal for negotiators.
Tension between Israelis and Palestinians is always high in Jerusalem during Ramadan. Quite apart from the relief for Gazans and Israeli hostage families, a ceasefire by Ramadan would help to lower tensions in Jerusalem.
Two things have changed that will have helped to mould Harris’s language. The humanitarian situation in Gaza is spiralling. The White House cannot ignore this. And domestic American politics is now sinking in.
Biden’s campaign team were unquestionably alarmed by the results of the Michigan Democratic primary where a staggering 100,000 people voted “uncommitted” in a coordinated protest of his handling of the Gaza crisis.
Michigan protest organisers in the key swing state where there is a large Muslim population had hoped to garner 10,000 “uncommitted” votes. They managed 10 times as many.
Senior Israeli war cabinet minister and pre-war opposition leader Benny Gantz arrived last night in Washington for talks over the next few days.
He will meet the vice president and the secretary of state Antony Blinken. Ceasefire progress will be a focus, but possibly succession talks too.
With growing unease – within Israel and beyond – about the suitability of Prime Minister Netanyahu, Gantz is an obvious successor who leads the polls.
This coming week will be critical.
Mark Dodson: ‘Talented’ actor who voiced creatures in Star Wars and Gremlins dies
US actor Mark Dodson, who provided voices for creatures in the Star Wars and Gremlins movies, has died aged 64.
His daughter Ciara said he had suffered a “massive heart attack” while sleeping, reported TMZ, which said it had spoken to her.
Dodson was the voice of Salacious Crumb, a scruffy monkey-lizard character who was a cackling court jester and pet of gangster Jabba the Hutt in the 1983 film Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi.
A year later, he did the voice for mogwai in another Hollywood movie, Gremlins.
The main mogwai, called Gizmo, was friendly and docile, but when a friend of the main character Billy Peltzer accidentally spilled water over Gizmo, five more mogwai came out of him, who were more troublesome and led by the aggressive Stripe.
After being fed after midnight, the mogwai formed cocoons and then emerged as mischievous monsters called Gremlins.
Dodson is credited on movie website IMDb as being one of the mogwai other than Gizmo.
Dodson also did voices for zombies in the 1985 movie Day Of The Dead.
His daughter said he “never ceased making me proud”.
Dodson died in Evansville, Indiana, where he had been due to attend a fan convention.
The Evansville Horror Con posted a tribute on Facebook, saying: “We are heartbroken to announce the sudden passing of Mark Dodson last night.
“Mark was not only a talented voice actor but also a cherished member of the horror community. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends, and fans during this incredibly difficult time.
“We hope that you can take a moment out of your day to reflect on the joy and laughter that Mark brought into the world. His legacy will live on through his work.”
The Peter Mayhew Foundation, named after the actor who played Chewbacca in the Star Wars film series, wrote on X: “It is with the heaviest of hearts that we learn of the passing of Mark Dodson.
“Mark was genuine and funny and the characters he brought to life will always be as iconic as he was kind. Thank you for everything Mark, you are missed.”
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Dodson worked continuously for several decades in film, video games, radio and commercials as a voice artist.
He is survived by his daughter and grandchildren.
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