A drug designed to treat liver failure could help in the battle against Alzheimer’s disease, after it was discovered that it may have more than one use.
Lonafarnib has already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US.
It was developed as a therapy for hepatitis D, but scientists at the University of California have discovered it also curbs brain degeneration.
This is particularly encouraging as there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s and attempts to stop the degenerative disease in its tracks are limited.
In a new study to test the potential of lonafarnib in cases of Alzheimer’s, the drug prevented tangles of the protein that causes the condition to form in the brain.
Dr Israel Hernandez, from the University of California, told the Daily Mail: “Although tau-related diseases including Alzheimer's disease and chronic traumatic encephalopathy are serious public health problems, no disease-modifying treatment currently exists for these conditions.”
There are many groups of researchers across the globe working to find treatments for Alzheimer’s and most of them target this tau protein.
Many of the approaches that are developed never make it to clinical trials, meaning nothing is brought to market that can make a significant difference to those diagnosed with the most common form of dementia.
What the scientists in California found was a new pathway that leads to the degradation of tau via lysosomes. These are subcellular structures that break down molecules and are critical to the efficacy of this treatment.
The pathway was seen to clear tau proteins by stopping certain enzymes and proteins from interacting with brain cells.
Dr Rosa Sancho, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, told the news provider: “The diseases that cause dementia are incredibly complex and many biological processes drive their progression.
“This study suggests that treatment with lonafarnib may only be effective in the early stages of disease, re-enforcing the importance of research into the early detection of diseases like Alzheimer's.”
There are almost a million people alive in the UK today that are living with dementia and predictions suggest this figure will only rise.
Finding ways to slow its progression are to be welcomed, but ultimately, researchers need to discover a cure.
The Alzheimer's Research UK Drug Discovery Alliance is among the organisations working on the problem and currently has more than 20 promising projects being run.
Even if one of these treatments was to turn out to be the answer to Alzheimer’s, it would take years for it to be tested, trialled and brought to market.
The good thing about lonafarnib is that it has already been declared safe by the FDA, meaning the process to getting it to people with dementia could be much quicker than designing a drug from scratch.