(CBS News) The lead researcher of first-ever drug trial intended to prevent Alzheimer's disease said there's "no guarantee" but researchers "have a shot" with a new treatment.
In the first-ever drug trial, 300 willing family members in Colombia who have the Alzheimer's gene but don't have symptoms, will be offered an experimental drug called Crenezumab to see if their genetic destiny can be reversed and if Alzheimer's itself can be prevented.
When the trial begins, Crenezumab will attack a toxic brain protein called amyloid. Most scientists think the buildup of amyloid kills brain cells and is the root cause of Alzheimer's. Scientists are now hoping the drug can stop the protein from lodging in the brain to begin with, especially in younger patients.
On "CBS This Morning" Wednesday, Dr. Eric Reiman, executive director of Banner Alzheimer's Institute and the lead researcher of the new drug prevention study, said this is the first time researchers can begin evaluating the most promising treatments in healthy people, "before the disorder ravages the brain when these treatments have their best chance of working." He added, "(There's) no guarantee these treatments will work, but we have a shot. We're very excited about that."
The study will last up to five years of treatment, Reiman said. "We're going to find out whether this treatment can slow down memory and thinking declines, whether it can prevent irreversible symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and whether it can slow down bio-marker evidence of the disease even before people develop symptoms."
If the treatment works, Reiman said researchers will have the opportunity to know if they're on-track with anti-amyloid treatments. "It would encourage us to further investigate these kinds of treatments in everybody in the prevention of Alzheimer's disease," he said. "I hope you'll start seeing studies like that relatively soon. If the treatment doesn't work, it will provide the best evidence to date that we need to start targeting other elements of the disease besides amyloid. ... We're also excited about not just studying, but sharing this data with the entire research community to find faster ways to prevent Alzheimer's disease."
The trial is set to formally begin next year. In addition to those 300 Colombian volunteers, sponsors will be looking for 24 Americans at high risk of getting Alzheimer's to sign up for this high-stakes one-of-a-kind experiment.