Popular Alzheimer’s drug memantine (Namenda) does not benefit those with a mild form of the disease, US scientists have revealed.

The drug, which had US sales of $1.2bn last year, has been approved in the US and Europe to treat patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease, yet it is frequently prescribed for ‘off-label’ uses.

The researchers looked through manufacturer-sponsored meta-analyses, presentations and publications to find evidence that proved the efficacy of memantine in mild Alzheimer’s disease.

Three trials were identified that concluded that there were no significant differences between memantine and a placebo in treating the 431 patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease involved in the study.

Memantine was patented by Eli Lilly and Company in 1968 and then developed by Germany’s Merz Pharma in collaboration with Neurobiological Technologies, before being licensed to Forest Laboratories for the US market and Lundbeck for European markets.

Dr Lon Schneider and colleagues of the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine wrote in Archives of Neurology: “Despite its frequent off-label use, evidence is lacking for a benefit of memantine in mild Alzheimer’s disease.

“Prospective trials are needed to further assess the potential for efficacy of memantine either alone or added to cholinesterase inhibitors in mild and moderate Alzheimer’s disease.”