A drug that targets beta amyloid has slowed cognitive and functional decline in people with early Alzheimer’s, according to the results of a small, mid-stage clinical trial.

Eli Lilly’s investigational antibody donanemab targets a form of beta amyloid, the protein that forms plaques in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. Trial participants taking the drug for about 76 weeks showed 32% slower decline in thinking and daily function measures when compared with those in a placebo group. 

Donanemab treatment has been shown to clear beta amyloid plaques from the brain, as measured by amyloid imaging. The current study was halted as planned after a certain amount of plaque had been removed in each participant. The drug was also determined to be safe.

The drug has the potential to clear high levels of amyloid plaque after limited-duration dosing, concluded Daniel Skovronsky, M.D., Ph.D., Lilly’s chief scientific officer. “The positive results we have obtained today give us confidence in donanemab and support its rapid and deep plaque clearance for the potential treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

Food and Drug Administration advisers in November voted not to approve another plaque-clearing Alzheimer’s disease antibody by Biogen, despite enthusiasm in the scientific community. The agency’s Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Committee was unconvinced of the drug’s efficacy, according to reports at the time.

No Alzheimer’s drug has hit the market since 2003.

The full results of the current study will be presented at a future medical congress.