Epilepsy drug shows promise for treating Alzheimer’s disease

A new epilepsy drug could offer a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, according to a recent study.

The study reinforced the theory that increased activity in the hippocampus, a region in the brain responsible for memory, plays a role in Alzheimer’s disease. The findings also suggest that epilepsy drugs hold promise for Alzheimer’s treatment as they reduce the brain's hyperactivity, diminishing memory loss. A new drug which is yet to be tested on human patients could slow or even reverse memory loss.

“The drug could have an important effect in the treatment if you start early on and would target individuals at risk for Alzheimer’s,” said Haakon Nygaard, Fipke Professor in Alzheimer’s Research at UBC’s Faculty of Medicine.

Previous studies looked at the drug levetiracetam using both rodents and patients with amnestic mild cognitive impairment, which often leads to Alzheimer’s. These studies found that the drug could reduce memory loss. The drug used in this study, brivaracetam, is a tailored version of levetiracetam.

Brivaracetam has been designed to be “10 times more potent than levetiracetam, making it more economical in the sense that you have to use less for the same result,” said Nygaard.

The drug reversed memory loss completely in the study’s rodent model.

“We think the results we got with brivaracetam in our mouse model have a good potential to translate into therapeutic effects in certain patients with Alzheimer’s,” explained Nygaard. “That would be the next step in research.”

Determining whether this drug may result in a treatment for Alzheimer’s would take at least five years of research. “At the moment there are no firm plans, but that would certainly be of interest to us,” said Nygaard.

The fact that brivaracetam is already being clinically developed for epilepsy saves Alzheimer’s research about a decade of testing required for any new drugs to be studied on human patients.

There are high expectations for researchers to develop a cure to the disease that, according to the Alzheimer Society of BC, affects over 700,000 Canadians annually.

“To a large degree, what it takes to actually realize those expectations amounts to appropriate funding of clinical and basic science research," said Nygaard.

Nygaard is confident that the research environment and resources at UBC are conducive to progressive research in Alzheimer’s.

“The resources are phenomenal and the scientific community is outstanding," said Nygaard.