Weird Medicine

China OKs Seaweed-Based Alzheimer's Treatment

A new Alzheimer's disease treatment has been approved by health authorities in China. The drug is considered the first to enter the market to treat the cognitive disorder over the past 17 years.

Researchers said the Alzheimer's drug, called Oligomannate, showed "encouraging results" during tests to treat mild to moderate forms of the disorder. The product uses seaweed, which has been linked to low incidence of Alzheimer's among people who consume it regularly.

A study, published in the journal Cell Research, shows that seaweed contains sugar that could block certain bacteria in the gut that contributes to neural degeneration and inflammation of the brain.

Green Valley, a Shanghai-based pharmaceutical company, used the earlier findings to develop and test Oligomannate. Tests with 818 patients showed that the Alzheimer's drug could improve cognitive function within four weeks of regular intake. 

"These results advance our understanding of the mechanisms that play a role in Alzheimer's disease and imply that the gut microbiome is a valid target for the development of therapies," Philip Scheltens, a neurologist who advises Green Valley and head of the Alzheimer Center Amsterdam, said in the statement.

Oligomannate also caused less side effects and better results compared to acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, the current treatment for mild to severe Alzheimer's, according to Vincent Mok, head of neurology division at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

However, he noted that more tests are needed to further understand the long-term effects of the new drug. Researchers also aim to see if it could help slow down the progression of Alzheimer's in people who have yet to develop strong symptoms.

China's drug safety agency also noted its approval to put Oligomannate on sale is conditional. Officials said they will closely monitor the drug during clinical trials and would remove it from the market should any safety issues arise, CNN reported Tuesday

Green Valley plans to release Oligomannate in China "very soon" and to introduce the drug to the global market eventually. Third-phase clinical trials are expected to begin in the U.S. and Europe in early 2020.

Estimates show that dementia affects 50 million people worldwide and 9.5 million people in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Alzheimer's disease People with Alzheimer's disease sit in the refectory of a retirement home on October 18, 2016 in Saint Quirin, eastern France. It is important to know the condition’s early signs or symptoms to get the right programs and services that can help support people with Alzheimer's disease and their families. Patrick Hertzog/AFP/Getty Images