Plenty of testing is required to validate a drug's effects, which can result in a wait time of several years or more before the drug becomes approved for the public – assuming that the tests are successful. With each potential treatment, it's hard to tell how long this process takes.
While this may seem like a long time, know that testing also ensures that the potential treatment doesn't do more harm than good.
What do clinical trials do?
A clinical trial examines the effects of an experimental drug given to a select group of volunteering participants.
These participants are people who meet the criteria for treatment. For example, a potential drug to fight memory loss would be tested with people who are experiencing that symptom.
When a potential dementia-treating drug reaches the clinical trial stage, it means that it's ready to be safely tested with participants, though there still may be potential risks through side effects.
A successful clinical trial moves research forward, putting us one step closer to better treatments for dementia – and possibly, a cure. Even if a clinical trial fails, we still further our understanding of dementia by knowing what doesn't work.
If you're interested in participating in a clinical trial, please check if there is a study available near you.
How do drugs get approved in Canada?
It is the responsibility of the Pharmaceutical Drug Directorate (formerly the Therapeutic Products Directorate) to ensure that all drugs used by the public are of high quality, safe and effective for specific conditions.
This responsibility includes ensuring that drug companies have tested the drugs they wish to market and that the public is protected during each stage of the drug's development. A history of successful clinical trials will make a drug more likely to be approved.
The Pharmaceutical Drug Directorate falls under the Health Products and Food Branch (HPFB), which in turn falls under Health Canada, the government agency responsible for helping Canadians maintain and improve their health.
More useful links and resources
Drug approval process for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer Society of Canada. Get the full picture of how a drug gets approved for public use in Canada, including a list of the currently approved medications that can treat the symptoms of Alzheimer's.
Cannabis and the treatment of dementia. Alzheimer Society of Canada. While there is ongoing promising research on the effects of cannabis, there is currently no evidence that cannabis is useful for the treatment or prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.
Medications for Alzheimer’s disease: Are they right for you? Alzheimer Society of Canada. Get all the information you need on the current medications approved to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, including their potential benefits and risks.
How are medicines developed? Alzheimer's Disease International, 2011. This report gives an overview of clinical trials, a key part of the drug approval process.
Therapeutic Products Directorate. Health Canada. Learn more about Canada's regulator of prescription drugs for human use.