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Trial drug offers hope for Alzheimer’s treatment

The family of a WA grandfather taking part in a drug trial that could revolutionise the treatment of early Alzheimer’s disease are cautiously optimistic it has helped him.

Mandurah 79-year-old Richard Lea recently finished a 12-week course of Xanamem, a drug offering a new approach to Alzheimer’s by targeting cortisol, a stress hormone in the brain.

His wife Jean, 76, said she had noticed improvements in his ability to think and remember — and even negotiate their complicated dual television remote controls.

With the final patients recruited last week, the much-anticipated results of the Xanadu drug trial by biotech company Actinogen Medical are due to be released within six months.

It is the first global study to investigate a treatment that specifically targets excessive cortisol in the brain, which has been linked to dementia — the second biggest killer of West Australians.

In Australia, about half of 65-year-olds have persistently raised cortisol levels and could be at risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

While there is no guarantee Mr Lea received the active drug rather than a placebo, Mrs Lea said she was confident she had seen changes in him.

Until a few years ago, Mr Lea was active and healthy, enjoying dancing, pennant darts and playing cards. He was sharp as a tack, helping design websites and able to add up numbers in his head before anyone else.

Ironically, he was diagnosed as a result of being on a Perth trial with his wife to see if researchers could protect healthy people from getting Alzheimer’s.

It meant the couple had regular cognitive tests and earlier this year a doctor pulled Mrs Lea to one side one day with news that stunned her.

“They told me that Richard actually had Alzheimer’s and it really hit me in the guts,” she said. “I was shattered and initially I didn’t tell him because I was worried about the effect it would have on him.

“In hindsight, there were some things I had noticed like when we were playing cards and he suddenly didn’t seem to know how to play and when we went dancing he was out of step with the music.

“I had thought perhaps it was Alzheimer’s but to be told by doctors was still a shock.”

Soon after his diagnosis, Mr Lea was on the Xanadu drug trial to treat Alzheimer’s rather than prevent it.

“Richard has become more sociable and even wants to do his own golf scoring again,” Mrs Lea said. “We don’t know for sure if it’s the drug and it could be wishful thinking but I’m really pleased with the changes I’ve seen in him.

“Regardless, we have children and grandchildren and Richard agreed to participate in this trial with the hope that researchers can help find solutions in the future.”

University of WA associate professor Roger Clarnette, who is medical director of the Australian Alzheimer’s Research Foundation, stressed it was a phase two study that primarily looked at the safety of the drug.

“But if we do identify data that indicates it may be clinically effective, the next step would be to launch a phase three study and recruit many more people,” he said.

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