China approves its first self-developed Alzheimer’s drug and it is based on seaweed

Ever since Dr. Alois Alzheimer discovered Alzheimer’s disease back in 1906, its reputation has gotten darker until today. Between 2000 and 2017, deaths from the said disease increased to an alarming 145%, with two-thirds being women. Based on the latest data of the Alzheimer’s Association, one person develops the condition every 65 seconds. At this rate, cases with people of ages 65 and older may grow to 13.8 million by 2050.

Our body has billions of nerve cells responsible for thoughts, reflexes, memories, and feelings. These cells called neurons send and receive signals in the brain. A person suffering from Alzheimer’s disease experiences a harmful imbalance caused by proteins becoming entangled and plaque building up in between the neurons. Cognitive functions eventually decline as the brain cells die.

Photo | China Xinhua News

Since the death of brain cells cannot be reversed, people with early to late stages of Alzheimer’s rely on therapeutic interventions to curb the damage of the disease. Pharmaceutical companies and international drugmakers churned billions of dollars for research, development and clinical trials of failed treatments to Alzheimer’s.

However, after almost two decades, a research team led by Geng Meiyu at the Chinese Academy of Sciences became successful in their attempt to create the world’s first medication against Alzheimer’s. The pioneer drug, Oligomannate has the potential to reverse the effects of the disease and has already been approved by the National Medical Products Administration for the treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease and improving cognitive function.

What’s even more groundbreaking is the inspiration behind the newly-discovered drug. Meiyu and her colleagues studied elderly people who consumed a kind of seaweed. People who included this seaweed in their diet were observed to be less at risk of Alzheimer’s.

Photo | China Xinhua News

In 1997, the researched team discovered the special sugar present in the marine brown algae. The team hypothesized that the compound plays a significant factor in why the elderly who consumed the seaweed were at lesser risk. The revolutionary drug finally came to fruition after almost two decades of research and clinical trials.

Over the past years, it was disheartening for researchers like Meiyu to develop a drug that can potentially reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s. Out of the hundreds of medications made worldwide, only five passed for clinical use. Clinical trials revealed that none of them can halt brain cells from dying.

“I did feel lonely sometimes, because others were all developing small molecule medicines.” Meiyu said in an interview with Shanghai observer.

Photo | China Xinhua News

After unraveling the unique properties of seaweed, all that was left was to produce the drug. Oligomannate gained conditional approval after gathering data from more than 800 volunteers. Data on clinical trials showed how participants improved by 2.54 points in a standardized test. Those who scored at least 16 points out of 70 are likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Green Valley, the Shanghai-based pharmaceutical company poised to mass-produce the drug said that Oligomannate should still be subjected to research on pharmacological mechanisms and long-term evaluation of safety and effectiveness.

In a press conference, the president of Green Valley Lu Songtao said that the production of the drug is already on the works. The self-developed drug is expected to be available to the Chinese public before the end of 2019. A US-compliant factory of the drug will also begin in Shanghai. “If the construction can be finished within three years, this factory will be able to satisfy demand for two million patients every year,” Songtao said.

Photo | China Xinhua News

Though the revolutionary drug shows cognitive impairment reversing properties, experts reminded that Oligomannate cannot restore dead brain cells and those with severe cases.

For its global launch, Green Valley plans international approval after finishing the third phase of clinical trials in US, Europe, and Asia sites. Proponents of the new Alzheimer’s drug are currently aiming to explore Oligomannate’s clinical effects in larger and more diverse populations to gather more evidence of the drug’s effectiveness.

Watch the video about this new drug below: