An End to Alzheimer’s? New Drugs Fight Memory Loss


Researchers in Toronto have developed an experimental drug that appears to renew the underlying brain impairments causing memory loss, fuelling hopes that a treatment for cognitive decline linked to depression and aging may be near. If fact, lead researcher, Dr. Etienne Sibille believes that the compounds, which appear to rejuvenate damaged brain cells, could undergo human trials in 2021.

Sibille says “We are now performing late pre-clinical studies so that we can submit an Innovative New Drug (IND) application to the US FDA to begin human studies. If all works out in terms of funding, we could start a human safety study in two years.”

GlobalData writer Abi Millar reports: For people who want to keep their minds sharp into old age, the usual wisdom is to adopt a healthy lifestyle – eat a balanced diet, exercise, reduce stress and maybe do the occasional crossword. You can’t pop a pill to stave off “senior moments.” However, exactly such a pill could be on the cards, thanks to work underway at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. The researchers, led by Dr. Etienne Sibille, are developing a new type of therapy that could reverse everyday memory lapses.

Sibille’s molecules hold potential for Alzheimer’s disease. However, they could also be used to forestall the memory symptoms associated with normal ageing and depression. Currently in the late pre-clinical stage, they target a completely different mechanism. The new molecules work by binding to and activating GABA receptors in the brain. Altered levels of GABA have been reported in depression, anxiety, neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s, and normal ageing.

Reporting their findings in Molecular Neuropsychiatry in January, Sibille’s team conducted a study on mice. In a series of experiments, mice received a single dose of the drug, and were placed in a maze. Some of these mice were old and had poorer memories, whereas some were young but had been subjected to stress-induced memory loss. After half an hour, the young mice had seen their memories restored while the old mice performed nearly as well as the young ones.

In another experiment, old mice had the drug put in their drinking water, and saw improvements lasting over two months. In fact, their damaged brain cells, which had shrunk with age, were rejuvenated. This suggests the drug can renew the underlying brain impairments, as well as improving cognitive symptoms.

“So far we have shown that our novel compounds enter the brain and are safe. At the behavioural level they display pro-cognitive effects in stress and aged mouse models, in addition to reducing anxiety and potentially depression,” says Sibille.

Clearly, mouse models can only tell us so much, and it will be a while before these results are replicated in humans. However, the researchers have submitted a patent for the drug, and expect to begin Phase 1 trials in 2021.

After the safety trials, the researchers want to test the drug on adults with depression, and then on those with age-related cognitive decline. Ultimately, they think that anyone over the age of 55-60, who may be at risk of cognitive problems later in life, could benefit from the treatment (ideally in the form of one pill a day). This could help prevent memory loss in early-stage Alzheimer’s, and even delay the onset of the condition.

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