A drug that is made up of seaweed may be able to help manage dementia symptoms. It’s called Oligomannate, and clinical trials have given researchers positive feedback showing that it helps aid the thinking and memory areas of the brain and minimize symptoms that are prevalent in Alzheimer’s patients. Oligomannate has been available in China since 2019 and is working its way through the process of FDA approval and coming to America.
The Chinese pharmaceutical company Shanghai Green Valley released Oligomannate to Chinese residents after years of testing. Currently, it is still in the phase of needing to successfully complete more clinical trials prior to its availability here.
In the past 20 years, pharmaceutical companies have started hundreds of clinical trials looking for a compound that could alleviate and cure dementia. The only drug to receive FDA approval since 2003 was Aducanumab (which goes by the brand name Aduhelm), in June 2021. Oligomannate has a chance at being only the second new FDA-approved Alzheimer’s drug since Namenda’s approval in 2003.
This article will detail what Oligomannate is, how it works, its benefits and where it is available.
Oligomannate is made of extracts from brown algae. Put another way, it’s a sugar derived from seaweed or kelp. Seaweed looks like a plant but is algae. Shanghai Green Valley says the drug changes bacteria in the intestinal tract causing a secondary effect that decreases swelling in the brain. This makes Oligommanate different from other medications that recently received approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Currently, on the market, there is aducanumab (brand name Aduhelm) which targets the beta-amyloid plaques that research has shown to cause brain cells to die in Alzheimer’s patients. Almost all other dementia drugs being tested in clinical trials are designed to target these beta-amyloid protein clumps.
Researchers have tested Oligomannate in pill form in double-blind, placebo-controlled studies. That means groups with dementia were given either the Oligomannate drug or a placebo. A placebo is like a sugar pill and will not cause any actual medical benefit. What they found is that the group that took the algae extract showed an improvement in cognitive function or their thinking ability. This improvement was demonstrated after as few as four weeks in some patients and continued over follow-up assessments.
Scientists have long believed there is a link between gut bacteria and the brain. Within our intestines there are metabolites that serve purposes including keeping our immune systems strong. In people with Alzheimer’s disease, the gut bacteria changes to produce harmful cells that cause swelling in the brain. The dementia-causing proteins called beta-amyloid and tau increase in the brains of people with this associated gut-bacteria issue.
Oligomannate was tested to block the rise in harmful intestinal bacteria. This was first done in laboratory mice and was shown to reduce the buildup of proteins that cause swelling in the brain and start symptoms like memory loss. Shanghai Green Valley Pharmaceuticals has said that in its clinical trials between 2014 and 2018, 818 test subjects were given either Oligomannate or a placebo for 36 weeks, and those who received the drug scored higher on tests of thinking ability and memory. Those improvements were shown in as little as four weeks.
The drug showed benefits for people with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s. This means someone in the later stages of dementia probably won’t see a benefit to Oligomannate, but people in the earlier and middle stages could see their symptoms lessen. Click for more information on the stages of dementia.
This medication is only available in China. Originally, when it was released in 2019, a 30-day supply would average a little more than $500 per month. That covers the recommended dose of 3 pills which are 150mg apiece. As of December 2021, the Chinese government began supporting this drug economically through state-sponsored grants and health insurance lowering its costs to approximately $90 per month. The drug is still seeking worldwide approval and is under conditional status in China. The makers of Oligomannate can sell it while they continue their research proving it helps dementia patients. In China, the government gave conditional approval because no medication is currently available that treats Alzheimer’s via one’s gut health. The makers of this drug makers were able to show that each clinical trial produced positive results further backing up their claims.
Since the drug is not yet available outside China, there is no potential insurance coverage for Oligomannate. Normally one would look to Medicare Part D, which covers prescriptions, and Medicare Advantage, which partners with private insurers and is tailored to specific individuals. They can cover the cost of other Alzheimer’s drugs like memantine and cholinesterase inhibitors, so it is possible that if and when Oligomannate gains FDA approval, these Medicare programs will include them as a covered benefit.
There was a clinical trial that was supposed to begin in the United States and would have shown Oligomannate moving closer towards its FDA approval. Shanghai Green Valley was in Phase 3 and had more than 2,000 participants recruited who had mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. This was intended for its study of the effectiveness of Oligomannate. The study was supposed to begin in 2020 but ran into problems because of the pandemic. Participating in clinical trials would have been the only way in the United States to be able to take Oligomannate. The study was expected to conclude in 2026. FDA approval generally takes another 6 to 10 months at a minimum so Oligomannate probably would not have been available to people with Alzheimer’s in the U.S. until 2027. Now because of the pandemic and China’s strict rules combined with funding problems, the U.S. trials are on standstill. As of May 2022 the phase 3 trial was canceled that was slated to study people across the world. Currently, there is no new trial scheduled.
There might be an alternative supplement that works similarly, see below.
There are no reported side effects of Oligomannate. This doesn’t mean the drug is completely safe, but so far Oligomannate says their side effects are similar to a placebo. One of the reasons more trials are required before the drug becomes widely available is that researchers must determine exactly which side effects people will experience if they start taking the drug. It’s possible longer-term issues simply haven’t surfaced yet. Some skeptics have argued that the clinical trials have been too short to evaluate the long-term effects.
Is there a supplement alternative to Oligomannate? Possibly. Brown algae, brown seaweed, and kelp supplements are available to take as pills, drops, or powder to add to food or beverages. These are marketed as nutritious and useful in digestion, but the supplement market is notorious for loose regulations and lack of enforcement. Purchase supplements from a source you can trust, and have realistic expectations. Supplements are not pharmaceuticals, so the benefits of taking straight brown seaweed in pill form may not match the drug Oligomannate, even if the drug is made from brown seaweed extract. More on dementia supplements. More on dementia supplements.