NHS: Widespread media coverage tells us today of a new drug that ‘halts’ Alzheimer’s symptoms ‘for three years’. The news is based on a press release issued yesterday that highlighted positive early results of research into the use of intravenous immunoglobulin to treat Alzheimer’s disease.
Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) is a medication made by harvesting antibodies from donated blood. It is currently used to treat severe forms of infection and a number of autoimmune conditions (where the immune system attacks healthy tissue). The idea behind using IVIG to treat Alzheimer’s disease is that it could encourage the immune system to ‘attack’ abnormal clumps of protein (amyloid plaques) that can develop in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Some of the media coverage of the press release was inaccurate. The Daily Express tell us there is a “pill to beat Alzheimer’s” when IVIG is actually given by injection into a blood vessel. The Daily Mail describes it as a “new vaccine” which is technically incorrect as it implies only one injection needs to be given when in fact IVIG was injected every two weeks.
Once past the somewhat misleading headlines, most coverage does then mention that it may be 10 years before this drug might actually be available, if it passes further scrutiny. IVIG can also be very expensive to manufacture so this may limit its availability on the NHS.
Limited conclusions can be drawn from this research as it is early stage, was conducted on a small number of people, and was not peer reviewed. Larger studies that compare IVIG to other existing treatments for Alzheimer’s disease are required to determine how safe and effective the drug is.