Erectile Dysfunction Drug to Be Tested as Dementia Treatment

December 11, 2014

Category: New Grants

New Funding From US and UK Will Facilitate “Clinical Test of Concept”

Today, the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF) and the Alzheimer’s Society UK announced new funding to explore the possibility of using a commonly prescribed drug which treats erectile dysfunction as the next treatment for dementia. Tadalafil – part of the same class of drugs as Viagra – is to be one of the major research programs funded by the two charities in a cross-Atlantic research partnership. This is the first-ever study researching the use of an erectile dysfunction drug for vascular dementia.

The announcement today comes on the one-year anniversary of the first G8 summit on dementia. The event saw global leaders call for increased investment and global collaboration in dementia research in order to find a disease-modifying treatment by 2025.

Nearly $500,000 will go to a team of scientists led by Dr. Atticus Hainsworth of St. George’s University of London to research whether tadalafil, which works by dilating blood vessels, could help prevent vascular dementia by increasing blood flow to the brain. 

Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia and accounts for more than one million cases of dementia in the United States. The condition is often caused by damage to the small blood vessels of the brain leading to reduced blood flow to brain tissue. This blood vessel damage – known as small vessel disease – is commonly seen in the brains of elderly people. In fact, 50 to 70 percent of older people, especially those over 80, have “mixed dementia,” a combination of vascular brain disease and Alzheimer’s. The researchers hope that tadalafil’s blood-flow boosting properties can prevent the damage that leads to vascular dementia.

In addition to this clinical study, another $250,000 investment will go to Professor Christian Holscher of Lancaster University to investigate whether experimental diabetes drugs could help reverse the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. The study follows up on the academic’s previous work showing that the diabetes drug liraglutide could reverse memory loss and the build-up of plaques in the brain characteristic of Alzheimer’s.  Professor Holscher will now begin work to look at whether two new, more potent diabetes drug candidates have the same or more significant effects on Alzheimer’s. The ADDF and the Alzheimer’s Society are also currently co-funding a clinical trial of liraglutide at the Imperial College London in patients with early Alzheimer’s disease.

The ADDF and the Alzheimer’s Society UK have both made significant recent investments in repurposing, which takes FDA-approved drugs that are already being used to treat other conditions and tests their potential to in diseases like Alzheimer’s. This innovative approach can rapidly accelerate the drug discovery process, bringing new treatments to patients in half the time required for a drug that hasn’t already earned FDA-approval. 

“Drug development can take decades and sadly, the path towards developing dementia treatments over the past decade is littered with drugs that have failed in clinical trials. As we learn more about the causes of dementia and its links to other conditions, there is hope that treatments we routinely use for other diseases may also work for people with dementia,” said Dr. Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society. “These incredibly exciting studies could see existing treatments turned into drugs for the most common forms of dementia in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost of developing new drugs from scratch. “ 

Collaboration is increasingly seen as a valuable tool for advancing non-profit goals. “The ADDF is thrilled partner with the Alzheimer’s Society on this important effort to reposition and repurpose drugs developed for other diseases for Alzheimer’s patients,” says Dr. Howard Fillit, Founding Executive Director and Chief Science Officer at the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation. “Working with the Alzheimer’s Society has enabled us to leverage our respective funding and research networks to support these innovative international programs.”