There is likely to be ‘big demand’ from patients interested in Alzheimer’s drug donanemab following the results of a clinical trial published this week, but the public must be aware that access is likely to be some way off, an expert in psychiatric pharmacy has suggested.

Full results from the donanemab clinical trial, released this week, found that the drug could slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by more than 20%, with a greater impact when used at an earlier stage of the disease.

Speaking to The Pharmacist, Ian Maidment, professor of clinical pharmacy at Aston University, said that although there had been ‘some hype’ around the drug’s potential in media reports, it does ‘look like, according to the clinical trial, that it’s going to be an effective treatment’. Though he noted that ‘every medication has side effects’.

He said that the drug should be considered an ‘advance,’ given that there had been no new treatments for dementia in over 20 years.

Professor Maidment said that there was likely to be ‘big demand’ from patients interested in the drug.

But he warned that patient access would be some way off, as the drug still needs to go through approvals, and until that happens it would not be clear what the inclusion criteria would be.

Kate Lee, chief executive officer at Alzheimer’s Society, described the study’s full findings as a ‘defining moment for dementia research’ when they were launched this week.

But she warned that ‘new treatments could mean nothing if we don’t fix dementia diagnosis’.

‘We estimate around 720,000 people in the UK could potentially benefit from these emerging new Alzheimer’s disease treatments if they’re approved for use here. But the NHS is simply not ready to deliver them,’ she added.

‘Everyone living with dementia deserves access to a speedy, accurate diagnosis to get the support and treatments they need, now and in the future.’

Dr Richard Oakley, associate director of research and innovation at Alzheimer’s Society, said that treatments like donanemab were ‘the first steps towards a future where Alzheimer’s disease could be considered a long-term condition alongside diabetes or asthma’.

He added that people living with Alzheimer’s ‘could have treatments that allow them to effectively manage their symptoms and continue to live fulfilled lives’.

Dr Oakley noted that it was ‘important to note that side effects did occur, although serious side effects only occurred in 1.6% of people receiving the drug’.

‘Regulators will need to balance these side effects against the benefits of the drug,’ he added.

And he said that more diversity among participants was ‘crucial’ for future clinical trials, ‘to prove that new drug treatments have similar effects for everyone living with Alzheimer’s disease’.

He echoed Ms Lee’s concerns about dementia diagnoses.

‘Diagnosis will be key to the access of any new treatments. We can’t have a situation where treatments are approved for use in the UK, but people aren’t diagnosed early or accurately enough to be eligible,’ said Dr Oakley.

‘We need early, and accurate, diagnoses available for everyone and the NHS ready to roll out treatments such as donanemab and lecanemab if and when they are approved in the UK.’

Concerns have been raised in the past about patients struggling to access specialist Alzheimer’s testing.

Last August, the government launched the Dame Barbara Windsor Dementia Mission, adding an additional £95m in ringfenced funding to the £16m a year set to be allocated to dementia research by 2024.

In November, Alzheimer’s Research UK called on the government to use the Dementia Mission to ‘take urgent steps to bring together regulators, industry, clinicians and decision-makers in our health system to put a clear plan in place to ensure people in the UK are among the first in the world to access new treatments once they are licensed.’