Galantamine for Alzheimer's disease

J Olin, L Schneider
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2002, (3): CD001747

BACKGROUND: Galantamine (also called galanthamine, marketed by Janssen as Reminyl) was originally isolated from several plants, including daffodil bulbs, but is now synthesized. Galantamine is a specific, competitive, and reversible acetylcholinesterase inhibitor. It is also an allosteric modulator at nicotinic cholinergic receptor sites potentiating cholinergic nicotinic neurotransmission. A small number of early studies showed mild cognitive and global benefits for patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD), and recently several multicentre clinical trials have been published with positive findings. Galantamine has received regulatory approval in 29 counties: Argentina, Australia, Canada, Czechia, the European Union (except for The Netherlands), Iceland, Korea, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, and the United States.

OBJECTIVES: The objective of this overview is to assess the clinical effects of galantamine in patients with probable AD, and to investigate potential moderators of an effect.

SEARCH STRATEGY: The trials were identified from a search of the Specialized Register of the Cochrane Dementia and Cognitive Improvement Group on 15 May 2002 using the terms galantamine and Reminyl. Published reviews were inspected for further sources. Additional information was collected from an unpublished investigational brochure for galantamine.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Trials selected were randomized, double-blind, parallel-group, unconfounded comparisons of galantamine with placebo for a treatment duration of greater than 4 weeks for people with AD.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Data were extracted independently by the reviewers and pooled where appropriate and possible. The pooled odds ratios (95%CI) or the average differences (95%CI) were estimated. Intention-to-treat and observed cases data were both reported, if the data were available. Outcomes of interest include the Alzheimer's Disease Assessment Scale-cognitive subscale (ADAS-cog), clinical global impression of change (CIBIC-plus or CGIC), Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study Activities of Daily Living Scale (ADCS-ADL), Disability Assessment for Dementia scale (DAD) and Neuropsychiatric Inventory (NPI). Potential moderating variables of a treatment effect included trial duration and dose.

MAIN RESULTS: Seven trials were identified that met criteria for entry, with six being Phase II or III industry-sponsored multicentre trials. Two were of 12 weeks duration; one of 13 weeks, one of 5 months; one of 29 weeks; and two of 6 months duration. Trials of 5 months or more were aggregated together in the analyses as '6 months.' Overall, galantamine showed significant treatment effects at daily doses of 16-32 mg for trials of 3- to 6-months duration. For global ratings, trials of 3 months duration with doses of 24-32mg/d (Odds Ratio (OR) 2.3; 95%CI 1.3 - 3.9) and 36mg/d (OR 3.4; 95%CI 1.2 - 9.5) were statistically significant in favour of treatment. For trials of 6 months duration (5-months to 29 weeks), only doses of 8mg/d failed to be associated with statistically significant benefit (16mg: OR 2.25; 95% CI 1.6 - 3.3; 24mg: OR 2.0; 95%CI 1.5 -2.5; 32mg: OR 1.9; 95%CI 1.4 - 2.5). For cognitive function over 6 months duration: at 16mg/d, improvements measured -3.3 points (k=1; 95%CI -4.4 - -2.1) on weighted mean difference on the ADAS-Cog scale; -3.5 points at 24mg/d (k=3; 95%CI -4.3 - -2.8), and -4.0 points at 32mg/d (k=2; 95%CI -5.0 - -3.0). The two 3-month trials with ADAS-Cog data also showed statistically significant improvement. Both observed cases (WMD 3.8; 95%CI 0.3 - 7.3) and intention-to-treat analyses using the Disability Assessment of Dementia scale gave statistically significant results in favour of treatment for daily doses of 32mg for 6 months duration (as did the single 3-month trial of 24-32mg/d treatment that used this scale). The small number of trials available for analysis, however, limited the power of subgroup analyses to detect differences. Galantamine consistently failed to show statistically significant treatment effects at doses of 8mg/day. Galantamine's adverse effects appear similar to those of other cholinesterase inhibitors, in that it tends to produce gastrointestinal symptoms acutely and with dosage increases. Overall, participants treated with galantamine at all doses for 3 months were more likely to discontinue that were those given placebo. Participants treated with galantamine at doses of 24-32 mg/d for 6 months were more likely to discontinue in most trials than were those treated with lower doses or placebo, with 32mg/d being associated with significantly higher withdrawal rates than was 24mg/d. However, in the one trial with a slower rate of titration the discontinuation rate was not significantly greater than placebo for the 16 mg/day dose.

REVIEWER'S CONCLUSIONS: Patients in these trials were similar to those seen in earlier anti dementia AD trials, and consisted predominantly of mildly to moderately impaired outpatients. Galantamine's effects on more severely impaired people has not yet been assessed. Never the less, this review shows consistent positive effects for galantamine for trials of 3 months, 5 months and 6 months duration. In addition, although there was not a statistically significant dose-response effect, benefits associated with doses above 8mg/d were, for the most part, consistently statistically significant. There is therefore evidence for efficacy of galantamine on global ratings, cognitive tests, assessments of ADLs and behaviour. This magnitude for the cognitive effect is similar to that associated with other cholinesterase inhibitors including donepezil, rivastigmine, and tacrine. Galantamine's safety profile is similar to that of other cholinesterase inhibitors with regard to cholinergically mediated gastrointestinal symptoms. No information is available on adverse events that occurred less than 5% of the time. It appears that doses of 16 mg/d were best tolerated in the single trial where medication was titrated over 4-week periods, and because this dose showed statistically indistinguishable efficacy with higher doses, it is probably preferable initially. Longer-term use of galantamine has not been assessed in a controlled fashion.

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