The world’s first new drug for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease in nearly two decades has been approved by the Chinese government. The National Medical Products Administration (NMPA) approved GV-971, which will be sold under the name Oligomannate, for the treatment of “mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease and improving cognitive function,” according to the agency’s statement. The drug was developed by the Ocean University of China, the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Shanghai-based Green Valley Pharmaceuticals Co.
Even though Alzheimer’s disease was first identified by German doctor Alois Alzheimer back in 1906, no one has been able to find a cure for the condition. According to data from the World Health Organization, about 50 million people now suffer from Alzheimer’s globally. That number is expected to rise to about 82 million in 2030 and 150 million by 2050. Roughly one-quarter of those sufferers will be in China.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disorder that causes the brain cells to degenerate, slowly reducing the person’s ability to think coherently. The decline in brain function caused by the condition often results in an inability to remember details about life histories, do simple math, remember faces and locations, or even recall what was done just hours ago. The amount of cognitive decline is divided into seven stages, with one being the lowest and seven the highest.
Researchers developing the new medication were first struck by the relatively low occurrence of Alzheimer’s among elderly people who regularly consumed seaweed. They identified a unique sugar in seaweed that they thought could be the reason for the low numbers and based their development around it.
In clinical trials, Oligomannat was shown to improve cognitive performance in patients on conditions up to stage 4. Patients with severe conditions will not benefit from using the medicine and it is not recommended as a precautionary medication for older people who do not display any symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
The Chinese research team, led by Dr Geng Meiyu, says that the new medication is expected to be available for patients in China before the end of the year. Lu Songtao, president of Green Valley, said the drug is currently in production at a plant in Liaoning province, northeast China.