AUSTIN (KXAN) — Results from a clinical Alzheimer’s drug trial have many feeling optimistic about the possibility of a new treatment option to slow the effects of the disease, despite some risks associated with the drug. 

Biogen and Eisai, the manufacturers of the experimental drug called lecanemab, released the study results Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. The researchers found patients with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease who received the medication over 18 months showed a 31% lower risk of converting to the next stage of the disease.

“We are very excited and very encouraged about the data that was presented yesterday on this drug,” said Aundrea Taurins, the executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association Capital of Texas chapter. 

Alzheimer’s is a progressive neurological disorder marked by severe memory impairments and decreased activities of daily life. The disease is the most common form of dementia and severely impacts the lives and loved ones of the individuals affected. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission estimates there are around 400,000 people over the age of 65 living with the disease in the state.

Lecanemab is an infusion treatment that targets a protein in the brain called amyloid. In Alzheimer’s disease, amyloid globs together and forms an amyloid plaque, which has been associated with the destruction of brain cells. 

The researchers reported lecanemab successfully reduced amyloid in patients in the early stages of the disease. Though the results were promising, around 17% of the participants experienced some brain swelling. About 9% of the participants in the placebo group, those who received nothing instead of lecanemab, also reported brain swelling. 

“Longer trials are warranted to determine the efficacy and safety of lecanemab in early Alzheimer’s disease,” the researchers wrote in their article. 

In 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a different similar medication designed to treat Alzheimer’s disease called Aduhelm, also produced by the same pharmaceutical company, Biogen. Aduhelm is expensive, and Medicare decided to limit coverage of it last year, citing limited benefits and elevated risks. Medicare officials at the time said they would open up broader coverage if a similar drug with greater benefits became available.

Taurins is hopeful with the introduction of this family of drugs, there will be something on the market soon. Once there, she said the Alzheimer’s Association will advocate for broad coverage.

“[This treatment] can give people more time. You know, it changes the course of this disease in a really meaningful way for people in those earliest stages of Alzheimer’s,” she said.