Diabetes drugs that also promote weight loss, such as Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic, are being studied to tackle some of the most difficult-to-treat brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Several scientists interviewed by Reuters have pointed to mounting research supporting testing diabetes drugs against neurodegenerative diseases. Diabetes regimens, from Ozempic to old mainstays like insulin and metformin, appear to address several different aspects of the metabolic system implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, including a protein called amyloid and inflammation. The hope is that improving glucose utilisation and tamping down inflammation in the entire body – including the brain – could slow progression of debilitating diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Test results are years away and success uncertain, but interest has been buoyed by recent positive data on Alzheimer’s drugs developed by Eisai Co. Ltd., with partner Biogen and by Eli Lilly and Co., demonstrating that removing sticky amyloid plaques accumulated in the brain can slow cognition decline caused by the fatal mind-wasting disease.
Dr. Suzanne Craft, professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, is currently running an Alzheimer’s trial evaluating intranasal insulin in combination with another diabetes drug. “This is what these agents do, and what insulin does. It plays a role in regeneration. And that’s what needs to happen. Given its role in modulating immune function, it may prevent the amyloid from continuing to accumulate,” Craft surmised.
Unlike older off-patent medicines like metformin, there is commercial incentive to test newer treatments such as GLP-1 agonists, a rapidly expanding class now dominated by Ozempic, known chemically as semaglutide, and Lilly’s Mounjaro, with other players working on a dozen potential new treatments.
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