New findings from the ongoing Drug Repurposing for Effective Alzheimer’s Medicines (DREAM) study suggest that certain rheumatoid arthritis drugs may lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias in people with cardiovascular disease. While the findings do not support broad use of these drugs for treating Alzheimer’s and related dementias, the results may point to a promising precision-medicine approach in specific groups of people at risk for developing these diseases. The research was published in JAMA Network Open and led by scientists at the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging in collaboration with researchers at Harvard Medical School, Boston; Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey; and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore.
Discovering new drug targets in Alzheimer’s and related dementias is crucial for meeting the enormous public health challenge of these diseases. Prior studies on whether approved rheumatoid arthritis drugs lower the risk of developing dementia have produced mixed results. In this study, researchers analyzed data in Medicare claims from more than 22,000 people, looking at whether those with rheumatoid arthritis who took one of three different classes of arthritis drugs were protected from dementia. There were no statistically significant associations with lowered dementia risk except among those with cardiovascular disease who were treated with one class of arthritis drugs called TNF inhibitors. These inhibitors suppress the immune system by blocking the activity of TNF, which is a substance in the body that can cause inflammation and lead to immune-system diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis.
The NIA DREAM study previously identified several U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs that are being tested as candidate treatments for Alzheimer’s and related dementias.
NIA experts are available for interviews to discuss specific findings of this paper and/or the broad view of the state of Alzheimer’s and related dementias research. NIA is the lead U.S. federal agency for research on these diseases. NIA scientists and funded research teams are exploring drugs aimed at multiple different disease pathways, considering combinations of treatments, and working to repurpose existing drugs to treat Alzheimer’s and related dementias.
Study Senior Author:
- Madhav Thambisetty, M.D., Ph.D., Chief, Clinical and Translational Neuroscience Section, NIA Intramural Research Program
- Richard J. Hodes, M.D., NIA Director
- Luigi Ferrucci, M.D., NIA Scientific Director
The research was funded in part by the NIA Intramural Research Program project 1ZIAAG000436-01.
NIA leads NIH’s systematic planning, development, and implementation of research milestones to achieve the goal of effectively treating and preventing Alzheimer’s and related dementias. These activities relate to NIA’s AD+ADRD Milestone 7.B, “Initiate research programs for translational bioinformatics and network pharmacology to support rational drug repositioning and combination therapy from discovery through clinical development.”
Desai R, et al. Comparative Risk of Alzheimer Disease and Related Dementia Among Medicare Beneficiaries With Rheumatoid Arthritis Treated With Targeted Diseases-Modifying Antirheumatic Agents. JAMA Open. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.6567.
About the National Institute on Aging (NIA): NIA leads the U.S. federal government effort to conduct and support research on aging and the health and well-being of older people. Learn more about age-related cognitive change and neurodegenerative diseases via NIA’s Alzheimer's and related Dementias Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center website. Visit the main NIA website for information about a range of aging topics, in English and Spanish, and stay connected.
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