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DPUK director Professor John Gallacher says the decision to approve the Alzheimer's drug aducanumab for use in the US is 'exciting news' for dementia research.

Concept image showing an antibody drug affecting neurons in the brain.
Aducanumab is an antibody drug that removes harmful plaques from around brain cells

Aducanumab is a monoclonal antibody (a man-made molecule that mimics the human immune system) designed to remove the build-up of amyloid plaque from the brains of those affected by dementia.

Plaques of harmful amyloid protein are associated with poor brain health and memory problems, as they impair and kill neurons (nerve cells in the brain). Pharmaceutical companies have been focusing on developing treatments that remove amyloid in the hope it will slow this process and delay the onset of Alzheimer's-caused dementia.

Aducanumab, produced by the drug company Biogen, was today approved for use in the US by the country's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the name Aduhelm. It is the first new drug for Alzheimer's disease to receive approval in nearly two decades. Existing treatments target the symptoms of the disease, rather than the underlying causes.

Professor Gallacher said: 'This is exciting news for Alzheimer's disease. It is the first encouragement after 20 years of disappointing trial results, and should spur other companies to dust off and take another look at their own monoclonal antibody drugs.

'Whether this is the answer to Alzheimer's disease, however, remains to be seen. The theory behind the drug makes sense, but the inconclusive results of the initial trial suggest that further work is required before firm conclusions can be drawn. The FDA decision reflects a balance of potential benefit vs risk, rather than clear benefit. We will all be watching eagerly to see how patients who take aducanumab progress. 

'Nevertheless, for people with Alzheimer's disease this is a real sign of hope. While expectations should be tempered given aducanumab is only likely to work for those with early-stage disease, this decision not only provides a treatment option but re-energises drug development.'

Read the FDA's full statement on its approval of aducanumab.