A new vaccine developed to treat and help prevent dementia could be on the market within five years as the researchers begin human trials.
A new vaccine developed to treat and help prevent dementia could be on the market within five years as the researchers begin human trials.

Dementia vaccine progresses from animal to human trials

A new vaccine that could help treat or prevent the memory loss disease dementia could be on the market within five to 10 years.

A US-government backed project, developed in collaboration with Professor Nikolai Petrovsky at South Australia's Flinders University, has progressed from testing on animals to human trials, a significant step in the drug development process.

"The work leading up to this has been going on for 20 years, this is not the start of the journey, it's the end," Prof. Petrovsky, a professor in endocrinology at Flinders University said.

"We know Alzheimer's disease is a big problem and we know it will get bigger as our population ages.

Professor Nikolai Petrovsky.
Professor Nikolai Petrovsky.

"Unfortunately we don't have great treatments available right now, we have some medicines that help reduce symptoms, but none that actually deal with what is happening to the brain.

"This vaccine could be revolutionary. It's not something that will be available tomorrow, but it's an exciting step in the right direction."

Alzheimer's disease, the leading cause of age-related dementia, is caused by the build up of abnormally formed proteins in the brain.

Prof. Petrovsky likens the effects of dementia on the brain to what happens to an egg yolk when it is boiled, clumping and hardening. The dual vaccine will work to allow antibodies to ­detect and then digest these clumps on the brain, thus potentially reversing the disease.

Prof. Petrovsky, who will base himself in the US for the first three months of 2020 to help further the research, said the fact that the development of the vaccine has been allowed to move from animal testing to human trials is cause for celebration.

"That was a big hurdle." he said. "Millions of researchers make claims of a cure (for different diseases) in animals but only a fraction get to the human trial stage. And that's mainly because it's expensive.

"The difference here is that the project has the backing of the US Government so it has the resources to move this along."

He hopes clinical trials will begin in 18 to 20 months with the vaccine on the market in five to 10 years if all goes well.

While the vaccine will hopefully be used to reverse the effects of dementia already noted in a person, Prof. Petrovsky said it is possible it could also be used to prevent the disease in people predisposed to it.

Dementia commonly affects people over the age of 65.
Dementia commonly affects people over the age of 65.

"What we do know is that when people have very severe disease it's much harder to make therapy work. So the question with a vaccine like this is, do we use it when people get the very first indication they have a problem? Or, do we even try to get it to people who are at risk or with a family history, for instance?"

Dementia is a disease which, according to the peak body Dementia Australia, causes "a loss of memory, intellect, rationality, social skills and physical functioning." And while it can occur in anyone, it most commonly affects people over the age of 65.

There are more than 447,000 people with dementia in Australia and without a breakthrough that number is expected to climb to almost 590,000 by 2028, according to Dementia Australia.

It is the second leading cause of death in Australians and the main cause of death in women, surpassing heart disease. Around 250 people are diagnosed with dementia each day and the number of new cases will increase to 318 people per day by 2025.

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