Huge Alzheimer’s breakthrough as scientists say new jab could ‘transform’ lives | UK | News

A revolutionary jab, which is designed to remove toxic proteins from the brain before they cause the damage leading to the most common form of dementia, is undergoing trials on patients in the early stages of the disease.

Once through clinical trials scientists say it could be widely available within five years, preventing future generations from the misery of being struck down by Alzheimer’s or seeing loved ones slowly diminish.

Last night scientists said the find was potentially a “massive breakthrough”.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia affecting approximately 540,000 in the UK. This is predicted to rise to 960,000 by 2040.

It can lead to a gradual decline in memory, thinking and ability to function.

A former senior police officer who developed the disease last year and is taking part in the phase two trials says his life has been “transformed” after just three jabs.

West End star Ruthie Henshall, 57, whose late mother Gloria had dementia, says the jab could be a “miracle” for sufferers.

The mother-of-two said: “A drug would be a miracle because there are enormous numbers of people with dementia and it’s on the rise because we’re living longer.

“This drug could be the hope people have been dreaming of – up there with finding the cure for cancer.”

Studies of the vaccine to prevent the degenerative brain disorder are being carried out in five centres across the UK, including at Oxford and Cambridge universities, as well as centres in Europe and the US.

The UK trials are backed by the government’s National Institute for Health and Care Research.

The first results will be presented at a conference in Philadelphia in the US in July, where experts will show images of brain scans showing the effect of the new vaccine on the brain.

Scientists believe Alzheimer’s is caused when naturally occurring proteins – called amyloid – become abnormal or “misfolded” and clump together in “plaques” in the brain, causing irreparable damage over time.

Previous treatments have tried to repair this damage but have come with potentially serious side effects including brain bleeds.

The new vaccine aims to stop this damage before it is caused and seems to have only mild side effects.

The drug, known as ACI-24, stimulates the body’s immune system to target these toxic amyloid proteins and clear them from the brain – in much the same way as the Covid jab supercharges our body’s natural protections.

The therapy – administered over a series of up to five injections in the course of a year – prompts the body’s own immune cells to “lock on” to these toxic proteins and remove them.

The trials will involve 140 participants with signs of early stage disease identified by brain scans. One arm of the study will involve people aged 50-85 and the other will involve people aged 35-50, who are at greatly increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s because they have Down syndrome.

If successful scientists hope they will eventually be able to offer the vaccine to people as a preventative measure before any signs of the disease have shown.

Dr Shahid Zaman, an Alzheimer’s expert at Cambridge University, said: “This is so important and exciting especially for the Down syndrome population who have a gene which overproduces this toxic amyloid protein putting them at very high risk of this disease. We finally have something that targets the amyloid protein and clears it. We can be very optimistic this vaccine will prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.”

He added: “Alzheimer’s can take decades of time before symptoms appear due to a build up of damage. For over a decade drug companies have put millions of pounds into drugs to target the amyloid plaques in the brain, but previous drugs have been shown to have awful side effects including brain bleeds. While this vaccine still has some side effects they are far less. I am very excited.”

Roger Quemby, 52, from Sutton, Surrey, who has Down syndrome, underwent a battery of tests last week to determine whether he can join the trial.

He said: “I would be very happy to have any drug to prevent Alzheimer’s.”

Leading dementia expert Dr Emer MacSweeney, CEO and medical director of Re:Cognition Health, a specialist service for brain disorders which is involved in the trial, said: “The potential for a new vaccine against Alzheimer’s disease is very exciting and could be a massive breakthrough.”

Dr Andrea Pfeifer, chief executive of AC Immune, the company which has developed the new therapy, said: “This could absolutely be a game-changer.

“This could ultimately treat a population of hundreds of millions of people who develop this terrible disease which causes so much suffering to patients and their loved ones.”

For information on ongoing studies for memory loss contact Re:Cognition Health 0800 802 1030

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Former police chief Jon Clayden, 59, says his health has “transformed” after being put on the vaccine trial in November last year.

The ex-detective chief inspector from Hever, Kent had become increasingly forgetful and less talkative before was diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s in May 2023.

Jon was referred to specialist brain clinic Re:Cognition in London where he has had three of a total of five doses of the vaccine or a dummy drug. As part of the trial protocols he is not allowed to know which.

He said: “I had been struggling. Comparing me to when I was diagnosed to now, the change is something to behold. I have more vocabulary and can do things independently that I wasn’t doing.”

His wife Julia, 55, who runs a global relocation business, said: “Jon would return back to the house to get things he had forgotten like a wallet or phone or he would forget what we had eaten the night before. He wasn’t communicating well because he was under a cloud of dementia. Since he went on the trial he has transformed and is back to the vocal confident person he was. The change is absolutely phenomenal. It’s incredible.”

West End star Ruthie Henshall whose late mother Gloria suffered from dementia said she would take a drug to prevent Alzheimer’s ‘in a heartbeat.’

The 5 time Olivier award winning actress, bitterly remembers the months running up to her 87-year old mothers death, during a Covid lockdown in May 2021 when restrictions forbade her from visiting her care home.

“After watching my mother, if I was told I had dementia I wouldn’t want to go through that. Especially after everything that happened to mum in lockdown.

“I would take a drug in a heartbeat. A drug would be a miracle because there are enormous numbers of people with dementia and it’s on the rise because we’re living longer. But also, it terrifies me.

This drug could be the hope people have been dreaming of – up there with finding the cure for cancer. Because it is like a cancer for anybody who gets it as it affects the mind and the body and is so progressive and can be so fast. It devastates not just the sufferer, everybody around them will suffer.

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