Study hopes to find if cancer drug can be used to treat Alzheimer’s

A new study at UBC is examining whether Saracatinib — a decade-old drug once used to treat cancer — can be effective in treating Alzheimer's disease.

Saracatinib was developed in the 2000s with the aim of treating cancer patients, but researchers found that it had little effect on mitigating the disease.

Still, the drug was effective in blocking a protein that is associated with the damage of brain cells. Under this premise, scientists are hypothesizing that Saracatinib could possibly slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

The study has received a $13 million grant from the National Institute of Health, and will take place in about 20 laboratories throughout North America. Vancouver is the only Canadian city involved in the study.

Over a year-long period, the treatment of 152 participants with mild Alzheimer’s disease will be analyzed. 76 of the participants will receive Saracatinib, while the other 76 will receive a placebo.

In analyzing the differences between the two groups, scientists can examine how effective the drug is in blocking the progression of Alzheimer's.

Since most of the research required to prove the safety of the drug has already been completed, the study can progress at a much quicker pace than that of a newer experimental drug.

“We will have done something substantial in a short amount of time,” said Haakon Nygaard, one of the study's main researchers, in a press release. “It’s really unheard of to go from zero to trials in three years.”

Nygaard, who recently joined UBC from Yale University, was one of the researchers hired by the university after a $9.1 million donation from Canadian diamond magnate Charles Fipke helped expand the Alzheimer’s research program at UBC. Nygaard has years of experience in the field of neurological treatment, having done much of his research on Alzheimer’s disease while at Yale University.

Effective treatments for Alzheimer’s are currently scarce: scientists have struggled to discover a way to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease while treatments to ease the disease’s symptoms are also not very effective.

Nygaard hopes that the findings of this study will lead to an important medical breakthrough.

“Just as Mr. Fipke persevered in his quest to find diamonds in North America, we will work tirelessly towards an effective therapy for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias,” said Nygaard.

On a larger scale, the study is being administrated by Yale University and the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study.