A dozen times over two years, Gary Millward and his wife, Debra, drove from Quesnel to Kelowna through everything from wildfires and winter storms to rain and brilliant sunshine.
The couple was in search of a drug that would slow the brain degeneration from Alzheimer’s disease that Gary had been suffering for seven years.
“Okanagan Clinical Trials was the closest Alzheimer’s trial to Quesnel that had space, so we jumped at it,” said Debra.
“And the combination of ibuprofen and an unnamed Alzheimer’s drug through an inhaler really helped Gary.”
Gary, along with two other Alzheimer’s sufferers, were honoured with Okanagan Clinical Trials’ Cornerstone Award on Thursday at a ceremony at the Okanagan Innovation Centre in downtown Kelowna.
“This award recognizes Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers who really went above and beyond to participate in trials,” said Okanagan Clinical Trials researcher Dr. Kim Christie.
“The Millwards came from Quesnel, Jerry (Broten) would drive here at 3 a.m. from Langley, and Deb (Hope) and her study partner (caregiver Bonnie Best) came from Vancouver regularly over two years.”
The event was also open to all 100 Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers who have taken part in 20 Okanagan Clinical Trials tests since 2014.
There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s, the neurodegenerative brain disease that robs patients of their memory, causes confusion and lack of understanding and leads to difficulty in performing even simple tasks.
So, the race is on to discover drugs that will cure or at least slow the symptoms of the disease.
Jerry Broten, who owns Lilly Electric in Langley, got involved in a trial when his Alzheimer’s was in an early stage.
“The disease runs rampant on both sides of my family,” he said.
“Definitely, I did it for myself, but also to help Alzheimer’s patients down the road. I was in a preventative study, and the trial drug I was given (an experimental one named with a series of numbers and letters) halted my Alzheimer’s. I’m so encouraged. I still have problems with people’s names, but numbers are no problem.”
Deborra Hope, who was the Early News at 5 anchor on Global TV BC until 2014, has Alzheimer’s that is more advanced.
“Deb has genetic Alzheimer’s,” said Bonnie Best, who is Hope’s study partner/caregiver for the trial.
“There was an opportunity when Deb was diagnosed to take part in the trial and test drugs that could help future generations.”
In trials, some are given experimental drugs and some are given placebos (sugar pill or neutral treatment), all in the name of research and finding out which drugs work and which don’t.
If drugs work for patients, they can continue taking them after the trial.
Those who were given a placebo have the chance to take the real drug after the trial to see if it will work for them, too.
“Pharmaceutical companies sponsor the trials, and usually 1,000 patients are needed internationally to test a drug,” said Christie.
“So, those that participate locally are part of a global effort.”
Christie said Alzheimer’s drug trials have been rife with negative findings.
“But the trials are so important because they determine which medications work and which medications don’t,” she said.
“With that information, scientists can adjust hypotheses to move forward. And there are always new medications coming out that need to be tested. For the past 15 years, some drugs have been able to slow some patients’ Alzheimer’s symptoms down. But there isn’t a cure yet and that’s what everyone is working toward.”
Okanagan Clinical Trials also does drug studies with migraine headache, chronic pain, diabetes and gastroesophageal (acid) reflux patients.