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Monday, 20 July, 1998, 18:34 GMT 19:34 UK
Daffodil and snowdrop drug for memory disease
Alzheimer's drug Aricept may soon have a rival in galantamine
A drug made out of daffodil and snowdrop bulbs could help to stave off the effects of Alzheimer's Disease, scientists claim.

Shire Pharmaceuticals have developed the drug, galantamine, and say tests in the USA show it is successful in delaying the progress of the brain disease.

The US trial involved 636 patients with mild or moderate Alzheimer's, 423 of whom were given the drug for six months. The rest were given a placebo.

The average age of patients was 75. Those who took galantamine scored significantly higher on tests for memory and learning ability.

The US results are expected to be reinforced by European test outcomes to be unveiled at the largest ever Alzheimer's conference in Amsterdam this week.

Highest-grossing drug

The drug has now completed the final stages of trials in the US and Shire said it would bring it for approval before US and European regulators by the end of the year.

Old person
One in 20 people over 65 will get Alzheimer's
It is expected to be Shire's highest grossing drug when it eventually goes on the market.

Alzheimer's is a progressive disease that attacks the brain and causes memory, behavioural and cognitive problems.

Around 20% of sufferers are over 65. In the UK, one in 20 people over 65 have the disease, with the numbers rising to one in five for over 85-year-olds.

Aricept, another drug shown to delay the progression of Alzheimer's in some patients, is available on the NHS in some areas of the UK.

Some health authorities, however, argue that its effectiveness is not proved. Alzheimer's campaigners believe the drug's cost may explain their reluctance to fund the drug.

Head injuries

The Amsterdam conference, which finishes on Thursday, has also heard details of a study which claims people who have suffered head injuries are twice as likely to suffer Alzheimer's in later life.

Dr Richard Havlik of the US National Institute on Ageing Epidemiology said the study looked at 2,400 US Navy veterans who had suffered amnesia or blackouts because of head injuries sustained between 1944 and 1945.

Dr Havlik said it was not clear why people who had suffered head blows should be twice as likely to develop the disease.

However, he suggested the injuries could cause long-lasting brain damage, for example, by killing brain neurons or damaging the behaviour of blood in the brain.

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