Officials in China have approved the use of a seaweed-based drug for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease – the first new medicine with the potential to treat the cognitive disorder in 17 years.
The seaweed-based drug, called Oligomannate, can be used for the treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, according to a statement from China’s drug safety agency National Medical Products Administration. The approval is conditional however, meaning that while it can go on sale during additional clinical trials, it will be strictly monitored and could be withdrawn should any safety issues arise.
According to CNN, in September, the team behind the new drug, led by Geng Meiyu at the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said they were inspired to look into seaweed due to the relatively low incidence of Alzheimer’s among people who consume it regularly.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder marked by cognitive and behavioural impairment that significantly interferes with daily function. It is the third leading cause of disability and death in the elderly next to cardiovascular disease and cancer.
According to the Alzheimer’s International, there are around 50 million people in the world with dementia and about two thirds have Alzheimer’s; the annual medical expense of the disease is estimated more than one trillion.
In a research paper in the journal Cell Research, Geng’s team described how a sugar contained within seaweed suppresses certain bacteria contained in the gut which can cause neural degeneration and inflammation of the brain, leading to Alzheimer’s.
This mechanism was confirmed during a clinical trial carried out by Green Valley, a Shanghai-based pharmaceutical company that will be bringing the new drug to market.
Conducted on 818 patients, the trial found that Oligomannate – which is derived from brown algae – can statistically improve cognitive function among people with Alzheimer’s in as little as four weeks, according to a statement from Green Valley.
“These results advance our understanding of the mechanisms that play a role in Alzheimer’s disease and imply that the gut microbiome is a valid target for the development of therapies,” neurologist Philip Scheltens, who advises Green Valley and heads the Alzheimer Center Amsterdam, said in the statement.
“We are very excited that Oligomannate is the first new drug approved for treating Alzheimer’s patients in the past 17 years, we are grateful to our patients and families who are the real heroes in the fight against this debilitating disease,” said Mr. Lv Songtao, Chairman of Green Valley.
He added: “At Green Valley, we are committed to the mission of ‘developing medicines that fulfil the biggest unmet medical needs for human health’ and have finally succeeded after 22 years of unremitting efforts. We look forward to continuing this journey to bring new treatment to all patients around the world.”