Cytox early test for Alzheimer’s offers hope to millions – ‘The Times’ front page news
July 22, 2016
Published in ‘The Times’ Friday 22nd July 2016 Written by Oliver Moody – Science Correspondent
People who develop mild memory problems in middle age will be able to find out whether they are likely to have Alzheimer’s disease by taking a powerful new gene test.
The early diagnosis would allow doctors to prescribe patients drugs and brain exercises to slow the onset of the condition before it is too late.
One of Britain’s foremost experts on the disease said that the test raised the prospect that everyone could discover their risk rating at the age of 60 while there was still time to guard against it.
More than 850,000 people in Britain are thought to have Alzheimer’s, which is a form of dementia characterised by clusters of toxic proteins in the brain. It is estimated that a case is diagnosed
every three minutes.
Catching the condition early enough for drugs and other treatments to work is crucial. However, it is difficult for doctors to tell whether people with confusion or forgetfulness are in its early stages or simply going through gentle cognitive decline as a natural result of ageing. The only dependable options used in the NHS are brain scans that cost about £1,500 or a £700 operation that involves puncturing the patient’s back to drain off some of their cerebrospinal fluid and check it for markers linked to the disease.
Cytox, an Oxford-based biotechnology company, will reveal a new option at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Toronto this weekend. It is quick, straightforward and reliable enough to be used in GPs’ surgeries.
The test, which is expected to cost a few hundred pounds, involves scouring small samples of DNA for 130,000 genetic variants thought to be associated with Alzheimer’s to build up a risk profile for each patient.
It is more than 80 per cent accurate at predicting dangerous levels of amyloid beta, a protein used as the main harbinger of the condition.
Initially it will be offered to drug companies seeking high-risk patients for tests because there is a severe shortage of suitable participants. The number of clinical trials for Alzheimer’s drugs has doubled since 2013 and charities say that there are not enough people volunteering to take part.
Over the next decade Cytox hopes to win approval from the NHS to use the test on the front line. At the moment there is no drug that can usefully fight the physical symptoms of Alzheimer’s but new therapies may arrive on the market as early as next year.
Richard Pither, chief executive of Cytox, said: “Once new treatments are available for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease there is no question that the benefits will be greatest if given early in
the course of the disease, and so finding eligible patients will be critical.”
John Hardy, chairman of the molecular biology of neurological disease at University College London, who is a member of Cytox’s academic research board but receives no money from the company, said that “in an ideal world” everyone would have their genes sequenced so that those at high risk of Alzheimer’s could be monitored closely by doctors from the age of 60.
“I’m excited by it,” he added. “It could be a real help in the trials arena and later in clinical practice.”