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Tests planned soon for drug to halt Alzheimer’s progression

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By Deborah Cooper • • September 12, 2000

A new treatment from an already known drug is being tested for use with Alzheimer’s patients. Dapsone, an anti-inflammatory generic drug that has been used for decades in the treatment of leprosy, will soon be the subject of clinical trials.

Immune Network Ltd., a biotechnology company, is establishing research sites in Brazil, Israel, Poland and South Africa, and will oversee the trials involving more than 300 Alzheimer patients. “This idea had tremendous science behind it,” said Ron Kertesz, a director of Immune Network.

The results of this phase II clinical trial will have great significance for the potential treatment of Alzheimer’s. According to Matt Sadler, project manager for the trial, “If the phase II clinical trial is successful than dapsone will be one of the only compounds that has been shown to slow or halt the progression of the disease.”

Sadler also noted that there are drawbacks to the currently available medications. “The current therapies available only serve to ameliorate symptoms and do not stop the underlying brain cell death associated with the disease. Indomethacin is currently the only compound that has been shown to slow the progression of AD. The common and severe side-effects of this compound will likely limit its clinical utility.”

Drs. Pat and Edith McGreer, medical researchers at the University of British Columbia are strong proponents for the use of dapsone. According to the UBC Chronicle, the McGreers were the first to contend that non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, can protect against AD. The researchers believe that inflammatory processes in the brain are chiefly responsible for Alzheimer’s and support research to discover whether the disease can be slowed down with the use of anti-inflammatory drugs.

Prior studies support the use of dapsone for people suffering from dementia. In 1992, 3,792 Japanese leprosy patients were monitored for dementia after using dapsone for five years. The study found that those patients who were taking dapsone had a 37% lower prevalence of developing dementia than compared to those who were not taking the drug.

In other unpublished research of an animal model and an in vitro analysis, dapsone has been shown to have potent neuroprotective effects against toxic products released by microglial cells, which are the cells thought to be central in the death of neurons in AD.

Due to the long history of dapsone, the company hopes that a large phase III study can be avoided, and that they can move ahead into the market after the phase II clinical trial. The trial is slated to begin during the first half of 2001 and is not yet accepting volunteers.

Alzheimer’s disease is a fatal, progressive, degenerative disease that attacks the brain and results in impaired memory, thinking and behavior. Memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s is so severe that it interferes with an individual’s daily functioning and eventually results in death. Without a cure, experts estimate that more than 22 million people will have this disease in the next 25 years.

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