Behind the headlines: what’s the real story for LMTX?

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By Kirsty Marais | Thursday 28 July 2016

The UK public woke up this morning to a series of headlines about phase III trial results of a potential Alzheimer’s drug called LMTX (also known as LMTM). The Times (£) placed their report on the front page, while the story was also reported by the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, BBC Online and more. Some of the headlines talked of a drug that could ‘halt’, ‘reverse’ or ‘put the brake on’ the disease – language that is undeniably optimistic about the treatment’s potential.

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But when you explore the coverage on the other side of the Atlantic, the verdict has been much more negative. The Wall Street Journal declared that the drug had failed in its clinical trial, the New York Times talks of LMTX ‘faltering’, while the Boston Globe calls the trial a ‘flop’.

Readers would be forgiven for assuming these were reports of two completely different trials, and of course people affected by Alzheimer’s will be wanting to know whether this trial was really a success – already this morning we have seen an increase in enquiries to our Dementia Research Infoline, some of them prompted by the media coverage. So what’s the real story?

Mixed results, and a possible silver lining

Our Science News team blogged yesterday about the trial, which was reported at a major dementia research conference in Toronto, and our spokespeople have also been helping to explain the results on broadcast media this morning. As their report shows, the truth is that the trial had rather mixed results – but overall, this drug did not show any slowing of symptoms in the overall study population when compared to people who were taking a very low dose of the treatment, which was used as a placebo.

The positive headlines have come from further analysis of the data which showed that the treatment may have had an effect in a small subset of the people on the trial. Of the 891 people enrolled on the trial, most were also taking treatments that have already been approved to help with the symptoms of the disease – medications such as donepezil, galantamine, rivastigmine or memantine. But 15% of them were only taking the trial drug or a placebo – and it was among this group that the researchers noticed a difference.

As our original report points out, the numbers in this group were very small. By the end of the study just 51 people were taking LMTX as a ‘monotherapy’, with no other treatment. It’s also not clear why the effect was only seen in this group – the researchers have not been able to explain why existing treatments might prevent LMTX from working, but equally, there could be another reason relating to the way the trial was run that might explain the observation. To be sure of that, we’ll need to see studies of LMTX as a monotherapy in much bigger groups of people.

Most of the news reports that focused on this possible silver lining did explain that the effect was only seen in a very small group of the people on the study – though this may not have been clear from some of the headlines people have seen today. At Alzheimer’s Research UK we believe that there will be major breakthroughs and certainly these results may be a step in the right direction, but we also need to be careful about how these are communicated. More than ever, there is reason to be hopeful about progress in dementia research – if you’d like to find out about the research taking place at Alzheimer’s Research UK and elsewhere, you can check out our news pages, read the latest news on our blog or contact our Dementia Research Infoline.

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Kirsty Marais