New drug to reduce brain cell death in stroke patients

A game-changing drug to protect millions of brain cells from dying after a stroke has been developed in Australia with hopes it could save lives across the globe. 

Argenica Therapeutics’ ARG-007 is a neuroprotective drug that aims to reduce brain tissue death after a stroke and extend the treatment window for patients, paving the way to prevent serious injury.

“Essentially what we are trying to do is hibernate the brain cells and protect them from dying until patients can receive treatment to remove the clot, buying them extra critical time," according to Dr Meghan Thomas.

Strokes are one of the five leading causes of death in Australia.

Some 92 patients will be administered the drug, via a 10-minute intravenous infusion, or a placebo during phase two of the clinical trial in 10 hospitals nation-wide when they present to the emergency department with acute ischaemic stroke.

AIS is caused by a large blocked blood vessel to part of the brain and is the most common type of stroke.

The second part of the trial aims to determine whether the drug is well tolerated and if it reduces the degree of brain injury which could improve a patient's outcome compared to a placebo.

Phase one has already determined it safe in human volunteers.

So far, five patients have been enrolled in the trial including one in Queensland at Princess Alexandra Hospital.

If there are any adverse reactions, the trial will be stopped and extra conditions put in place to continue.

"We haven't seen anything like that yet," Dr Thomas said.

Patients will be monitored via CT scans to see any change in their brains between the onset of a stroke and after administering the drug.

If ARG-007 is deemed successful, it could prove life changing across the world in buying patients time as it will be administered by first responders.

“What many people don’t realise is that as soon as a blood vessel is blocked in the brain, brain cells start to die almost immediately,” Dr Thomas said. 

Administering the drug as soon as paramedics are on scene could slow the rapid death of brain cells during a stroke.

"If you save a minute with treatment you often save a day of disability but with clot retrieval, saving a minute saves a month of disability," Dr Michael Devlin, neurologist at Princess Alexandra Hospital, said.

But the drug - if approved - may not be available for some time as there is still another phase of approval after the second clinical trial, marking more than five years until it could be in the hands of first responders.

In 2020, there were an estimated 39,500 stroke events in Australia, or more than 100 daily, according to the latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

There were around 67,900 hospitalisations due to a stroke and 8500 deaths in 2020-21.

The drug may also help other neurological conditions like traumatic brain injury and hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy due to the way it is formulated.

In pre-clinical models it has already shown some effectiveness in improving outcomes in these conditions as well as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.

Dr Thomas said the drug could stop the production of plaque in these conditions therefore slowing the onset of symptoms like memory loss.

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