Authorities in China have approved a drug for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, the first new medicine with the potential to treat the cognitive disorder in 17 years.
The seaweed-based drug, called Oligomannate, can be used for the treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer's, according to a statement from China's drug safety agency.
The approval is conditional however, meaning that while it can go on sale during additional clinical trials, it will be strictly monitored and could be withdrawn should any safety issues arise.
In September, the team behind the new drug, led by Geng Meiyu at the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said they were inspired to look into seaweed due to the relatively low incidence of Alzheimer's among people who consume it regularly.
In a paper in the journal Cell Research, Geng's team described how a sugar contained within seaweed suppresses certain bacteria contained in the gut which can cause neural degeneration and inflammation of the brain, leading to Alzheimer's.
This mechanism was confirmed during a clinical trial carried out by Green Valley, a Shanghai-based pharmaceutical company that will be bringing the new drug to market.
Conducted on 818 patients, the trial found that Oligomannate -- which is derived from brown algae -- can statistically improve cognitive function among people with Alzheimer's in as little as four weeks, according to a statement from Green Valley.
"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," neurologist Philip Scheltens, who advises Green Valley and heads the Alzheimer Center Amsterdam, said in the statement.