It has been almost two decades since the last drug for Alzheimer’s was approved. Now, Chinese reglators have granted conditinal approval for a new drug derived from seaweed that has shown to improve cognitive function in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. But does it work?
Unlike other drugs that target getting rid of protein buildup in the brain, this new drug, known as Oligomannate, is said to modulate the connection between the brain and gut bacteria known as the microbiome. According to the researchers behind the drug, “Trial results demonstrated that Oligomannate statistically improved cognitive function in mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s patients as early as week 4 and the benefit was sustained at each follow-up assessment visit (Servick: 2019).”
Even though their findings come along a growing body of research that supports a link between neurological disorders and the microbiome, as full data on the drug has not yet been made available, scientists and regulators are hesitant on both the drug’s safety and efficacy.
Thus, until further research is published, and further trials are conducted, it is difficult to say both how and whether or not the drug works on people. So far, the only evidence that it may work comes from animal studies.
In September for example, a group of Chinese scientists published a study in which they identified a link between an altered microbiome and neuroinflammation thought to contribute to Alzheimer’s. Treating these mice with Oligomannate, they found that it supressed the bacterial imbalances in the mice’s guts and thus reversed neuroinflammation and cognitive impairment (Wang: 2019).
Although a promising result, it is worth noting that often what works in mice has little to no effect in humans due to their different brain structures. Regardless of this however, the development of this drug has been met with excitement by some. Maria Carrillo, the Alzheimer’s Association’s chief science officer said that the drug is “is the first step necessary toward a combination approach to treat Alzheimer’s dementia and all dementia.”
For this drug to be available on the US market however, further trials are needed. According to Dr. Jy Snider, a neurologist at ashington University, “We’re always excited to have a new potential treatment...but I certainly would not prescribe it to my patients based on a single study or another country’s approval until we know more about it (Joseph: 2019).”