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Anti-viral Therapy in Alzheimer's Disease

The safety and scientific validity of this study is the responsibility of the study sponsor and investigators. Listing a study does not mean it has been evaluated by the U.S. Federal Government. Read our disclaimer for details.
ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT03282916
Recruitment Status : Active, not recruiting
First Posted : September 14, 2017
Last Update Posted : May 23, 2023
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Information provided by (Responsible Party):
Davangere P. Devanand, New York State Psychiatric Institute

Brief Summary:
Anti-viral therapy in Alzheimer's disease will investigate the efficacy of treating patients with mild Alzheimer's disease with the U.S.A marketed generic anti-viral drug Valtrex (valacyclovir, 500mg oral tablet). Valacyclovir, titrated to 4 grams per day, repurposed to treat Alzheimer's disease, will be compared to matching placebo in the treatment of 130 mild AD patients (65 valacyclovir, 65 placebo) who test positive for herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV1) or herpes simplex virus-2 (HSV2). The study will be a randomized, double-blind, 18-month Phase II proof of concept trial.

Condition or disease Intervention/treatment Phase
Alzheimer Disease Herpes Simplex 1 Herpes Simplex 2 Drug: Valacyclovir Drug: Placebo Phase 2

Detailed Description:

Many viruses are latent for decades before being reactivated in the brain by stress, immune compromise, or other factors. After the initial oral infection, herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV1) becomes latent in the trigeminal ganglion and can later enter the brain via retrograde axonal transport, often targeting the temporal lobes.

HSV1 can also enter the brain via olfactory neurons directly. HSV1 (oral herpes) and HSV2 (genital herpes) are known to trigger amyloid aggregation and their DNA is commonly found in amyloid plaques. Anti-HSV drugs reduce Aβ and p-tau accumulation in brains of infected mice. HSV1 reactivation is associated with tau hyperphosphorylation in mice and may play a role in tau propagation across neurons. In humans, recurrent reactivation with newly produced HSV1 particles, 'drop by drop,' may produce neuronal damage and eventually lead to neurodegeneration and Alzheimer's disease (AD) pathology, partly due to effects on amyloid and tau. Clinical studies show cognitive impairment in HSV seropositive patients in different patient groups and in healthy adults, and antiviral treatments show robust efficacy against peripheral HSV infection. The study team will conduct the first-ever clinical trial to directly address the long-standing viral etiology hypothesis of AD which posits that viruses, particularly the very common HSV1 and HSV2, may be etiologic or contribute to the pathology of AD. In patients with mild AD who test positive for serum antibodies to HSV1 or HSV2, the generic antiviral drug valacyclovir, repurposed as an anti-AD drug, will be compared at oral doses of 4 grams per day, to matching placebo in the treatment of 130 patients (65 valacyclovir, 65 placebo) in a randomized, double-blind, 78-week Phase II proof of concept trial. Patients treated with valacyclovir are hypothesized to show smaller decline in cognition and functioning compared to placebo, and, using 18F-Florbetapir PET imaging, to show less amyloid accumulation than placebo over the 78-week trial. Through the use of tau PET imaging with the tracer 18F-MK-6240 at baseline and 78 weeks, patients treated with valacyclovir are hypothesized to show smaller increases in 18F-MK-6240 binding than patients treated with placebo from baseline to 78 weeks. Apolipoprotein E genotype at baseline, as well as changes in cortical thinning on structural MRI, olfactory identification deficits, and antiviral antibody titers from baseline to 78 weeks, will be evaluated in exploratory analyses. In patients who agree to lumbar puncture, plasma and CSF acyclovir will be assayed to establish the degree of CNS penetration of valacyclovir in mild AD, and the investigators will obtain CSF Aβ42, tau, p-tau for subset exploratory analyses with changes in outcome measures. If this trial is successful, the investigators will apply for funding to conduct a larger, multicenter, Phase III study using a study design that will be informed by the results of this Phase II trial. This innovative Phase II proof of concept trial clearly has exceptionally high reward potential for the treatment of AD.

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Study Type : Interventional  (Clinical Trial)
Actual Enrollment : 120 participants
Allocation: Randomized
Intervention Model: Parallel Assignment
Masking: Triple (Participant, Care Provider, Investigator)
Primary Purpose: Treatment
Official Title: Anti-viral Therapy in Alzheimer's Disease
Actual Study Start Date : February 12, 2018
Estimated Primary Completion Date : December 2023
Estimated Study Completion Date : December 2023

Arm Intervention/treatment
Active Comparator: Valacyclovir
The oral valacyclovir will be distributed in 500mg caplets. Patients will take 8 caplets per day.
Drug: Valacyclovir
Valacyclovir hydrochloride 500mg caplet
Other Name: Valtrex

Placebo Comparator: Placebo
The oral placebo (sugar pill) will be distributed in 500mg caplets. Patients will take 8 caplets per day.
Drug: Placebo
Placebo sugar pill 500mg caplet

Primary Outcome Measures :
  1. Change in Alzheimer's Disease Assessment Scale - Cognition (ADAS-COG11, modified version) scores from baseline to 78 weeks. [ Time Frame: Week 0, Week 12, Week 26, Week 52, Week 78 ]
    The modified ADAS-COG11 is a cognitive battery that assesses attention, category fluency, episodic verbal memory, non-verbal memory, and naming. ADAS-cog has been used in virtually all FDA registration trials in AD. ADAS-cog has three different/equivalent word list versions that will be given sequentially to reduce practice effects.

Secondary Outcome Measures :
  1. Change in Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study - Activities of Daily Living (ADCS-ADL) scores from baseline to 78 weeks. [ Time Frame: Week 0, Week 12, Week 26, Week 52, Week 78 ]

    Measure of daily functioning in Alzheimer's disease that has been used in several major AD trials.

    ADCS-ADL includes a large section on Instrumental Activities of Daily Living, that are affected in mild AD.

  2. Change in total 18F-Florbetapir brain uptake from baseline to 78 weeks. [ Time Frame: Week 0, Week 78 ]
    18F-Florbetapir PET imaging will show amyloid accumulation in sum of six ROIs (cerebellar reference) that show increased uptake in AD: medial orbital frontal, anterior cingulate, parietal, temporal, posterior cingulate, precuneus.

  3. Change in total 18F-MK-6240 brain uptake from baseline to 78 weeks. [ Time Frame: Week 0, Week 78 ]
    18F-MK-6240 tau PET imaging will show tau accumulation, SUVR: combining medial temporal, lateral temporal, prefrontal, parietal, and occipital regions of interest, ROIs, with cerebellar reference.

Information from the National Library of Medicine

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Ages Eligible for Study:   50 Years to 95 Years   (Adult, Older Adult)
Sexes Eligible for Study:   All
Accepts Healthy Volunteers:   No

Inclusion Criteria:

  1. Males and females. Females must be postmenopausal defined as 12 consecutive months without menstruation. Patient Report
  2. Diagnosis of probable AD by NIA clinical diagnostic criteria. Physician Evaluation
  3. Folstein Mini Mental State (MMSE) score 18 to 28 (inclusive) out of 30. Neuropsychological Evaluation
  4. Clinical Dementia Rating (CDR) score of 1 (mild dementia). Physician Evaluation
  5. A family member or other individual who is in contact with the patient and consents to serve as informant during the study Patient Report
  6. Patient retains capacity to consent for him/herself or retains the capacity to identify a surrogate who will consent on his/her behalf. Patient Report
  7. At screening, patients must test positive for serum antibodies to HSV1 or HSV2. Patients that test equivocal (index between 0.90-1.09; < 0.90 is negative and > 1.09 is positive) will repeat the test within 6 weeks at a repeat visit. If the results are negative at the second test, the patient will not enter the study. If the results are equivocal or positive at the second test (first test was equivocal), we will enroll the patient in the study because "equivocal" indicates the presence of antibodies that do not reach the minimum threshold.
  8. Use of cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine, and concomitant psychotropic medications (other than high dose benzodiazepines), will be permitted throughout the trial. Doses of these medications will need to be stable for at least 1 month prior to study entry. Any changes to the medication will be documented in the participant research chart. Medications given for other medical reasons, e.g., anti-diabetic or antihypertensive medications, will not be altered for the purposes of this trial and the patient's primary physician may adjust such medications as medically indicated throughout the trial. Details of concomitant medication use will be documented at all visits and will be available for statistical analysis.
  9. For patients diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment and CDR score of 0.5 ( questionable dementia), if these patients have biomarkers of AD neuropathology with either a positive amyloid PET scan, positive fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) PET scan of the brain, or positive findings for AD in CSF ( low ABeta42 and high tau, p-tau protein levels) they will be eligible for the study. This applies to patients who already had an amyloid PET scan, FDG PET scan of the brain, or lumbar puncture, prior to recruitment into the protocol.

Physical Evaluation

Exclusion Criteria:

  1. Caregiver is unwilling or unable, in the opinion of the investigator, to comply with study instructions. Physician Evaluation
  2. Patient has dementia predominantly of non-Alzheimer's type, including vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, Lewy body dementia, substance-induced dementia. Physician Evaluation
  3. Modified Hachinski scale score greater than 4. Physician Evaluation
  4. Current clinical diagnosis of schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, other psychosis, bipolar disorder or current major depression by DSM-5 criteria. Prior history of major depression will not be exclusionary (25% of older adults have a lifetime history of major depression). Physician Evaluation
  5. Active suicidal intent or plan based on clinical assessment. Physician Evaluation
  6. Current or recent (past 6 months) alcohol or substance use disorder (DSM-5 criteria). Physician Evaluation
  7. Current diagnosis of other major neurological disorders, including Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, CNS infection, Huntington's disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Physician Evaluation
  8. Clinical stroke with residual neurological deficits. MRI findings of cerebrovascular disease (small infarcts, lacunes, periventricular disease) in the absence of clinical stroke with residual neurological deficits will not lead to exclusion. Physician Evaluation
  9. Acute, severe, unstable medical illness. For cancer, patients with active illness or metastases in the last 12 months will be excluded, but past history of successfully treated cancer will not lead to exclusion. Physician Evaluation
  10. Sitting blood pressure > 160/100 mm Hg. Physician Evaluation
  11. Renal failure as determined by an estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR) < 44 ml/min/1.73m2 (see 4.3.b.). Physician Evaluation/ Laboratory Report
  12. Serum vitamin B12 levels below the normal range. Physician Evaluation/ Laboratory Report
  13. Patients with thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura/hemolytic uremic syndrome will be excluded. Physician Evaluation
  14. Use of benzodiazepines in lorazepam equivalent doses equal to or greater than 2 mg daily. Physician Evaluation
  15. For patients consenting to lumbar puncture (40% of sample), this procedure will be conducted if there is no lower spinal malformation or other contraindication to lumbar puncture. Physician Evaluation
  16. For MRI, metal implants and pacemaker, and claustrophobia such that the patient refuses MRI. In the investigators' experience, these exclusions occur in less than 5% of patients with mild AD. MRI is required for VALAD. Patient Report/ Physician Evaluation
  17. Radiation exposure in the prior 12 months that, together with 18F-Florbetapir and 18F--MK-6240 PET, will be above the FDA annual radiation exposure threshold. This will be determined through study staff ( i.e. Principal Investigator, Study Physician) discussion with potential subjects at Screening, documenting inquiry about radiation history. If there is any history of additional radiation exposure in the past year; it will be reviewed with PET Center staff for their approval before proceeding. The combined radiation exposure from the maximum doses used for 18F-Florbetapir and 18F-MK- 6240 is within the FDA limits for annual radiation exposure and the second scan in each patient will be done 18 months after the initial PET scan (for both radioligands). Patient Report/Physician Evaluation
  18. Severe vision or hearing impairment that would prevent the participant from performing the psychometric tests accurately. This will be a clinical determination by the study physician without formal testing or audiometry Physician Evaluation
  19. Olfaction component: current upper respiratory infection (patient tested as soon as this improves), current smoker > 1 pack daily (past smoking has been shown not to affect UPSIT scores, UPSIT score < 12/40 (10 out of 40 is scored by chance in this multiple-choice test) indicating congenital anosmia. In the investigators' experience, less than 3% of cases are excluded for having one or more of these exclusionary criteria. If a patient is excluded from the olfaction component, the patient will still be eligible for the main protocol and all other study procedures. Patient Report/Physician Evaluation

Information from the National Library of Medicine

To learn more about this study, you or your doctor may contact the study research staff using the contact information provided by the sponsor.

Please refer to this study by its ClinicalTrials.gov identifier (NCT number): NCT03282916

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United States, Arizona
Banner Alzheimer's Institute (BAI)
Phoenix, Arizona, United States, 85006
United States, New York
New York University School of Medicine
New York, New York, United States, 10016
New York State Psychiatric Institute
New York, New York, United States, 10032
Sponsors and Collaborators
New York State Psychiatric Institute
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
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Principal Investigator: Davangere Devanand, MD Columbia University
Publications automatically indexed to this study by ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier (NCT Number):
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Responsible Party: Davangere P. Devanand, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Neurology, New York State Psychiatric Institute
ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT03282916    
Other Study ID Numbers: 7537
R01AG055422 ( U.S. NIH Grant/Contract )
First Posted: September 14, 2017    Key Record Dates
Last Update Posted: May 23, 2023
Last Verified: May 2023
Individual Participant Data (IPD) Sharing Statement:
Plan to Share IPD: No

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Studies a U.S. FDA-regulated Drug Product: Yes
Studies a U.S. FDA-regulated Device Product: No
Keywords provided by Davangere P. Devanand, New York State Psychiatric Institute:
Anti-viral treatment
Additional relevant MeSH terms:
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Herpes Simplex
Alzheimer Disease
Brain Diseases
Central Nervous System Diseases
Nervous System Diseases
Neurodegenerative Diseases
Neurocognitive Disorders
Mental Disorders
Herpesviridae Infections
DNA Virus Infections
Virus Diseases
Skin Diseases, Viral
Skin Diseases, Infectious
Skin Diseases
Antiviral Agents
Anti-Infective Agents