The milkshake drug, called Ketasyn, is a new approach to treating dementia. It centers on latest research suggesting diabetic-like changes in brain cells' ability to use sugar for energy play a role in at least some forms of Alzheimer's.
Special fatty acids in Ketasyn present an alternate food source to energies those hungry neurons, according to the researchers at the international Alzheimer's meeting here Monday. Adding the Ketasyn to the regular medicine showed a small but important improvement in mental functioning. This was experience by people who do not carry the Alzheimer's gene called ApoE4. This improvement was seen in half of the 150 people tested with the new alternative.
The milkshake drug Ketasyn follows the principle that when someone fasts, the body lives off stored fat. Ketasyn contains fatty acids that the liver metabolizes into substances called ketones, similar to what's produced during a fast. Brain cells can use ketones in place of sugar for energy.
That's also similar to the high-fat, low-protein ketogenic diet sometimes used for children with severe epilepsy. Manufacturer Accera is currently hunting funding for a Phase III study, and exploring different formulations for epilepsy and other brain disorders.
"We see this as a co-therapy," not a way to stop Alzheimer's, cautioned Dr. Lauren Constantini, a former Harvard scientist now with the company Accera Inc. that is developing the drug.
To stop Alzheimer's brain decay, most scientists are depending on drugs that promise to prevent sticky goo called beta-amyloid from clogging up patients' brains. And Monday did not bring good news on that front: The first of those amyloid blockers to make it to large-scale, Phase III testing has hit a hurdle, and scientists will have to wait until at least month's end to learn if the much-anticipated drug Alzhemed really works.
The problem is statistical, said lead researcher Dr. Paul Aisen of Georgetown University: Hospital-to-hospital differences in other medication use among the study's 1,000 participants prevent an immediate clear comparison of Alzhemed's role. Working with the Food and Drug Administration, researchers are adjusting for those variations, Aisen told the Alzheimer's Association's dementia prevention meeting.