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Hope in Alzheimer’s fight as discarded cancer drug shows promise

Cancer drug fights dementia

Developed by the British pharmaceutical giant Astra Zeneca, saracatinib, also called AZDO5030, did not prove effective in trials in fighting the tumors it was hoped it would treat. But scientists at Yale University in the States used the drug in an Alzheimer’s study and found it restored memory loss in mice given the disease.

These efforts to re-purpose the drug are being done through a program funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The program seeks to find another purpose for drugs that failed at treating the illness for which they were intended.

Drugs selected have already gone through testing on humans and were found safe, even if they did not work for their intended purpose and, as Dr. Stephen Strittmatter explains, that gave he and his research team a head start.

“The investigational drug already had been developed, optimized and studied in animals as well as tested for safety in humans, so our ability to obtain this asset…gave us an incredible shortcut in the drug development process,” Dr. Strittmatter said in an NIH press release.

Alzheimer’s Disease and Fyn protein

Saracatinib was not selected randomly but had qualities that drew dementia researchers to it. There is a protein called Fyn, a key part of the formation of amyloid clusters, the clusters researchers now know form on brain cells of those with Alzheimer’s and other dementia, damaging them. Saracatinib targets Fyn and in the tests involving mice it did so effectively.

“In the animal study, the Yale team gave the experimental drug to mice with Alzheimer’s-like symptoms, such as memory loss and age-related buildup of abnormal amyloid beta clusters, modeling the development of the disease in humans,” the NIH press release said. “After four weeks, the Alzheimer’s mice showed complete reversal of spatial learning and memory loss.

“When the scientists examined the brains of the mice, they found that the characteristic synapse loss had been fully restored, providing a biological explanation for the memory improvement,” they noted. “The treatment also reduced several other Alzheimer’s-related biochemical changes in the mice and did not appear to be toxic.”

Due to the drug’s previous use on humans the research team, in addition to testing it on mice, have already been able to use saracatinib on a small test group of humans. They will now be able to fast-track to the next step, a large-scale test of saracatinib on humans with Alzheimer’s Disease.

The work done by Dr. Strittmatter and his team at Yale has been published in the journal ‘Annals of Neurology.’

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