Background: Ideally putative disease-modifying therapies for Alzheimer's disease (AD) should be tested in patients who have minimal morbidity. Current barriers to such trials in early disease include the lack of disease-specific early biomarkers, insensitivity of quantitative cognitive outcome measures, and expensive trial designs requiring large sample sizes and long duration. This paper describes principles and progress towards a novel trial design that overcomes these problems, utilizing wide-scale cognitive performance screening to define pre-trial cognitive decline trajectories which can serve as trial outcome measures to assess AD disease-modifying efficacy.
Methods: Theoretical principles important for the detection of intra-individual cognitive decline and a practical example are described.
Results: Serial evaluations of community-based volunteers demonstrate how a screening tool method to detect subtle cognitive decline can predict in vivo amyloid pathology as a trigger for etiological evaluation. Trajectories of decline appear consistent over at least two years, suggesting they could be used as a trial inclusion criterion and ameliorable outcome measure together with other AD biomarkers. Informative trial durations could be 6–12 months, or extend to incorporate staggered random withdrawal or start designs, with as few as 20 individuals per treatment arm.
Conclusions: This trial methodology offers significant advantages over current AD trial designs, including treatment at earlier stages of disease, shorter trial duration, obviation of informed consent difficulties, smaller sample sizes, reduced cost and – given adequate screening programs – sufficient subjects for multiple simultaneous trials. Importantly, it allows the rapid evaluation of putative treatments that may only be efficacious in pre-dementia states.