Page last updated at 20:41 GMT, Monday, 20 April 2009 21:41 UK

Daffodil drug's Alzheimer's help

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The compound is extracted from daffodils and turned into crystals

A daffodil crop grown in Powys which will be used to produce a drug to fight Alzheimer's disease is ready for harvesting, its growers have said.

Alzeim, from Talgarth near Brecon, farms daffodils for a compound called galantamine, which slows the progress of the disease.

Until now, galantamine has been extracted from snowdrops grown in Bulgaria and China.

Local supplies may persuade the NHS to pay for its use in England and Wales.

It is already available in Scotland but it has to be prescribed privately elsewhere as it is not on the National Institute for Clinical Excellence's prescription list.

The flowers are grown on the slopes of the Black Mountains after trials showed that location produced blooms with greater concentrations of galantamine than those grown in lower areas.

Sir Roger Jones, Alzeim chairman
The yield of galantamine in the areas we're growing daffodils is much higher than in other areas of the UK and Europe
Sir Roger Jones

Last year, Alzein, based in Talgarth, received £850,000 from the Welsh Assembly Government's investment company Finance Wales and private investors to go into commercial production of the drug.

Company chairman Sir Roger Jones told BBC Wales said the company was beginning its harvest on Monday.

"We know exactly what the galantamine content is and the question is to pull that out and turn it into galantamine crystals and sell it to manufacturers all over the world," he said.

"Hopefully in the UK, but lots of it will end up in Europe and Canada. That's where the market is.

"The product has come off patent in most countries and now generic manufacturers who make a cheaper version of the drug want galantamine and we want to supply to them."

Sir Roger said the business could expand into other areas of Wales if necessary.

"There are ways of enhancing farming incomes, I'm pretty certain of that," he said.

"The yield of galantamine in the areas we're growing daffodils is much higher than in other areas of the UK and Europe."

Dafydd Evans, of Alzheimer's Society Cymru, believes supplies of the drug, which is used in the early stages of the disease, could help some of those with the condition.

"There's an ageing population and at the moment there are 37,000 people in Wales suffering from the problem and that's going to go up by 20% over the next few years.

"In Britain, there's 700,000 [with Alzheimer's] and that's going to go up as people get older," he said.

"It's very important that something is done to help these people because of the cost of people going into residential accommodation.

"It's so expensive that anything that can be done from a commercial point of view will be useful."



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