There is no evidence that MPACs (PBT1 or PBT2) are of benefit in Alzheimer's dementia

The protein amyloid-β (Aß) is strongly implicated in the development of Alzheimer's dementia, where it aggregates in clumps causing damage and death of brain cells. This clumping is encouraged by copper and zinc (metal ions) in the brain. Metal protein attenuating compounds (MPACS) bind strongly to copper and zinc (this is known as chelation), both preventing the clumping together of Aß and promoting processes which may cause it to dissolve and so be cleared from brain cells. Therefore MPACS may be a potential therapy for Alzheimer's dementia. Two different types of MPAC have been used in clinical trials and the drugs are known as PBT1 and PBT2. The trial of PBT1 compared with placebo (in 36 patients) showed no statistically significant difference in cognition or memory between the active treatment and placebo groups at 36 weeks. We therefore conclude that there is no current evidence that treatment with clioquinol (PBT1) has any significant effect on cognition and in particular memory (as measured by the ADAS-Cog scale) in patients with Alzheimer's dementia. This drug has now been withdrawn from development. The trial of PBT2 showed it was safe after 12 weeks of treatment but demonstrated no overall significant effect on cognition or memory.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is an absence of evidence as to whether clioquinol (PBT1) has any positive clinical benefit for patients with AD, or whether the drug is safe. We have some concerns about the quality of the study methodology; there was an imbalance in treatment and control groups after randomisation (participants in the active treatment group had a higher mean pre-morbid IQ) and the secondary analyses of results stratified by baseline dementia severity. The planned phase III trial of PBT1 has been abandoned and this compound has been withdrawn from development. The second trial of PBT2 was more rigorously conducted and showed that after 12 weeks this compound appeared to be safe and well tolerated in people with mild Alzheimer's dementia. Larger trials are now required to demonstrate cognitive efficacy.

Read the full abstract...

Alzheimer's dementia (AD) may be caused by the formation of extracellular senile plaques comprised of beta-amyloid (Aß). In vitro and mouse model studies have demonstrated that metal protein attenuating compounds (MPACs) promote the solubilisation and clearance of Aß.


To evaluate the efficacy of metal protein attenuating compounds (MPACs) for the treatment of cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer's dementia.

Search strategy: 

We searched ALOIS, the Cochrane Dementia and Cognitive Improvement Group Specialized Register, on 29 July 2010 using the terms: Clioquinol OR PBT1 OR PBT2 OR "metal protein" OR MPACS OR MPAC.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised double-blind trials in which treatment with an MPAC was administered to participants with Alzheimer's dementia in a parallel group comparison with placebo were included.

Data collection and analysis: 

Three review authors (RM, LJ, ELS) independently assessed the quality of trials according to the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions.

The primary outcome measure of interest was cognitive function (as measured by psychometric tests). The secondary outcome measures of interest were in the following areas: quality of life, functional performance, effect on carer, biomarkers, safety and adverse effects, and death.

Main results: 

Two MPAC trials were identified. One trial compared clioquinol (PBT1) with placebo in 36 patients and 32 had sufficient data for per protocol analysis. There was no statistically significant difference in cognition (as measured on the Alzheimer's Disease Assessment Scale - Cognition (ADAS-Cog)) between the active treatment and placebo groups at 36 weeks. The difference in mean change from baseline ADAS-Cog score in the clioquinol arm compared with the placebo arm at weeks 24 and 36 was a difference of 7.37 (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.51 to 13.24) and 6.36 (95% CI -0.50 to 13.23), respectively.There was no significant impact on non-cognitive symptoms or clinical global impression. One participant in the active treatment group developed neurological symptoms (impaired visual acuity and colour vision) which resolved on cessation of treatment and were possibly attributable to the drug.

In the second trial a successor compound, PBT2, was compared with placebo in 78 participants with mild Alzheimer's dementia; all were included in the intention-to-treat analysis. There was no significant difference in the Neuropsychological Test Battery (NTB) composite or memory between placebo and PBT2 in the least squares mean change from baseline at week 12. However, two executive function component tests of the NTB showed significant improvement over placebo in the PBT2 250 mg group from baseline to week 12: category fluency test (2.8 words, 95% CI 0.1 to 5.4; P = 0.041) and trail making part B (-48.0 s, 95% CI -83.0 to -13.0; P = 0.009). In the executive factor Z score, the difference in least squares mean change from baseline at week 12 for PBT2 250 mg compared with placebo was 0·27 (0·01 to 0·53; p=0·042).There was no significant effect on cognition on Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) or ADAS-Cog scales. PBT2 had a favourable safety profile.