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Experimental Alzheimer's drug offers hope of effective treatment

News round-up by Conor D'Andrade

Results for the world’s first successful phase 3 drug trial for slowing the rate of cognitive decline in individuals with early Alzheimer’s have been published.

It has been hailed as a “historic moment” for treating degenerative disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.

The study involved 1,800 patients diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s who received two doses a week of the drug (Lacenmab) or a placebo over 18 months.

According to the results of the study, Lacenmab was associated with a 27% reduction in cognitive decline compared to a placebo.

While this difference is only considered a minor change in clinical outcome, it is the first statistically significant influence a drug has had on the disease’s development.

Researchers found that this slowdown in the rate of cognitive decline was due to the drug reducing the build-up of toxic plaques within the brain, which form over time and cause memory decline and difficulty with daily functions.

However, not all the findings were positive: around 1 in 5 participants experienced side effects, which included swelling or bleeding of the brain visible on PET scans, alongside 3% of these reporting symptomatic side effects.

It is expected that Eisai and Biogen – the two companies developing the drug – will apply for regulatory approval within Europe and the US at the end of the year.

“This is a historic moment for dementia research, as this is the first phase 3 trial of an Alzheimer’s drug in a generation to successfully slow cognitive decline," said director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, Dr Susan Kohlhaas. "Many people feel Alzheimer’s is an inevitable part of ageing. This spells it out: if you intervene early you can make an impact on how people progress.”

Poor mental health can add years to our chronological age

Newly published research suggests that feelings of loneliness and depression can age people faster than smoking, highlighting the influence of psychological health on biological health.

While we tend to measure our “chronological age”, which is a literal measure of how much time has passed since we were born, our “biological age” is based on the ageing of the body’s processes.

These processes and functions are influenced by lots of factors, such as lifestyle and genetics.

Now, researchers at Deep Longevity, Stanford University, and The Chinese University of Hong Kong have developed a digital model of biological ageing which they say reveals the importance of psychological health for biological health.

The model was developed using data collected from 4,848 participants as part of the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS) in 2015.

Biological measures and variables included 16 blood biomarkers, such as glucose and cholesterol levels, blood pressure, body mass index, lung function, and participant’s sex.

The model developed from this data was then compared to the actual “chronological age” of participants, which revealed a difference of 5.7 years on average over or under their chronological age.

To assess the validity of these findings this model was tested on the CHARLS data of 2,617 Chinese adults with ageing-associated diseases, such as Dementia.

It was found that those with a history of lung conditions, liver disease or stroke were predicted by the model to be older than 4,451 healthy adults with the same chronological age, sex, and living area.

It was also found that these conditions add no more than 18 months to someone’s biological age, with smoking estimated to add another 15 months in biological age.

Professor of psychology and epidemiology at University College London, Andrew Steptoe said: “The results are interesting and add to existing evidence from North America and Europe that factors such as stress and low socioeconomic position are related to accelerated ageing.

“It will be important in the future to test whether these predictions are fulfilled by repeating testing over a number of years.”

Global guidance published to improve mental health measures in the workplace

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) are making calls for “concrete actions” to improve mental health in the workplace.

WHO estimates that 12 billion workdays are lost each year due to anxiety and depression, costing the global economy $1 trillion annually.

In response, the WHO has published WHO guidelines on mental health at work and a derivative WHO/ILO policy brief.

The WHO has provided global guidelines to address negative behaviour, heavy workloads and other factors that lead to distress at work.

This includes, for the first time, the recommendation that managers receive training to 'build their capacity to prevent stressful work environments and respond to workers in distress’.

“The well-being of the individual is reason enough to act, but poor mental health can also have a debilitating impact on a person’s performance and productivity," said WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“These new guidelines can help prevent negative work situations and cultures and offer much-needed mental health protection and support for working people.”

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