An experimental “seaweed” drug called Oligomannate, which treats Alzheimer’s, is now available for patients to buy in China.
Chinese officials announced conditional approval to the seaweed-based drug in November. Oligomannate is the first drug to be approved for the treatment of Alzheimer’s in 17 years.
The drug is produced by Shanghai Green Valley Pharmaceutical Company, and comes in a 150 milligram capsule. It could cost up to 3,580 yuan — or $512 — for just a month’s worth of treatment, according to the South China Morning Post.
Gut Bacteria and the Brain
Instead of attacking amyloid-beta or tau protein in the brain, researchers claim that Oligomannate works by tinkering with gut bacteria, which can lead to reduced inflammation in the brain. In previous research, researchers concluded that a sugar in Oligomannate suppresses bacteria that can cause cell degeneration and inflammation in the brain.
Vincent Mok, who heads the neurology division at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said that the new drug showed “encouraging results” when compared to acetylcholinesterase inhibitors—the existing treatment for mild to severe Alzheimer’s.
“It is just as effective but it has fewer side effects,” Mok said in an interview with CNN. “It will also open up new avenues for Alzheimer’s research, focusing on the gut microbiome.”
Skepticism of the ‘Seaweed’ Drug
The past year has been an interesting one for the field of Alzheimer’s research, between the cancellation then subsequent resurrection of Biogen’s drug, aducanumab, and the approval of Oligomannate in China. Though some experts remain skeptical about aducanumab, others are touting it as a “milestone achievement” for Alzheimer’s research.
Some experts also question the validity and safety of Oligomannate. Some doctors noted that very little is known about the drug.
Writing an article in a blog for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), scientist Derek Lowe noted that “a new Alzheimer’s therapy is already going to face a tough development path and a lot of skepticism, but this one has even more red flags that I had realized.”
According to the South China Morning Post, Geng Meiyu, one of the researchers out of Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica who worked on the drug, said data on lab rats showed the drug was safe.
However, more trials are in store for the drug — with some to be carried out in North America, Europe and Asia and enrolling 2,000 patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease, Green Valley Vice President Li Jinhe announced on Sunday. If the trials are successful, the goal is to make Oligomannate available globally by 2025.