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Anti-tau vaccine is successful in clinical trial for people with Alzheimer’s disease

Available drugs treat the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, but do not halt or slow disease progression. There is an urgent need for disease-modifying drugs.

Alzheimer’s disease progressively impairs cognition and daily function and death usually occurs five to ten years after diagnosis. Available drugs treat the symptoms of the disease, but do not halt or slow disease progression. There is an urgent need for disease-modifying drugs

Neuronal apoptosis in Alzheimer's disease. Picture: Science Photo Library

People who have Alzheimer’s disease have amyloid plaques between the neurones in the brain and tau protein tangles in the neurones. Research on development of disease-modifying drugs has mainly focused on amyloid plaques but this has not led to any new marketable treatments. As a result, the search for treatment is now looking at different avenues and tau pathology is regarded as one of the most promising targets.


Several studies have shown that the amount of tau pathology in the brain is strongly correlated with the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. The localisation of tau proteins corresponds with the domains of cognition affected in the course of the disease. This suggests that preventing changes to tau proteins using immunotherapy might provide a key to tackling Alzheimer's disease.

In this trial people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease were given an active vaccine, AADvac1, which targets pathological tau proteins, in monthly doses for up to six months. The aim was to see if the vaccine provoked an immune response and to check for adverse events.

The results show that the vaccine elicited a safe, strong and specific response against structures on tau proteins essential for the pathological changes. This makes the vaccine a promising candidate for development of immunisation against Alzheimer’s disease and opens the way for research into this area.

Novak P, Schmidt R, Kontsekova E et al (2017) Safety and immunogenicity of the tau vaccine AADvac1 in patients with Alzheimer’s disease: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, phase 1 trial. The Lancet. Neurology. 16, 2, 123-134.

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