Two drugs that act differently on the brain’s chemistry worked in tandem to help stave off the brain-robbing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, researchers said on Tuesday.
All the patients in the yearlong study were afflicted with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s and had been taking the drug donepezil, which prevents the breakdown of an important chemical messenger, acetylcholine, in the brain that commonly occurs with Alzheimer’s.
But patients who also took the drug memantine scored better on tests for cognition and some quality of life measures than patients given an inert placebo along with donepezil. Memantine is a drug that counteracts the overproduction of the brain cell-killing chemical glutamate.
Though the interaction between the drugs was not clear, “to find a new medication that can provide substantial benefit to patients at this stage of the disease, either alone or in combination with another Alzheimer’s drug, is certainly good news,” study author Pierre Tariot of the University of Rochester said in a statement.
The researchers, who published their report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, have received grants and honorariums from pharmaceutical companies that produce the drugs.
Donepezil is sold under the brand name Aricept by Eisai Inc. and Pfizer. Memantine is sold under the name Namenda by Forest Laboratories Inc., which helped finance the study.