Implications of the study population in the early evaluation of anticholinesterase inhibitors for Alzheimer's disease

Ann Pharmacother. 1992 Sep;26(9):1118-22. doi: 10.1177/106002809202600914.


Objective: Velnacrine testing for tolerance and safety in both normal elderly subjects and patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) is reviewed to illustrate the importance of Phase I trials in the target group as more predictive of safety and tolerance for subsequent multicenter trials than those conducted in healthy elderly subjects.

Design: Both a single-dose and a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, ascending, multiple-dose study were performed with healthy, elderly men. In the multiple-dose study, the subjects were randomized to four groups of 14, with 10 subjects receiving velnacrine and 4 receiving placebo. The doses were velnacrine 25 (group 1), 50 (group 2), and 100 mg (group 3), respectively, administered twice daily; group 4 received 100 mg three times daily for 28 days. Blood and urine were collected serially for the pharmacokinetic assessment. With AD patients, 24 subjects were randomly assigned to receive either placebo or velnacrine for 10 days in a double-blind, sequential escalation study in a hospital setting. There were three groups of 8 subjects. Six patients in each group received velnacrine and 2 placebo. The three groups received respective dosages of 450, 300, and 225 mg/d three times daily. Adverse events were closely monitored and recorded.

Patients/participants: The multiple-dose test in healthy elderly men included 56 men, aged 60-74 years. Rigorous screening for any potential complications that could affect absorption, distribution, metabolism, or excretion preceded patient entry in the AD patient study. Patients with a history of major psychiatric, neurologic, and cardiovascular disorders were excluded. The patients ranged in age from 56 to 89 years, and were equally distributed between gender.

Intervention: Velnacrine was administered in various doses.

Main outcome measures: We emphasize the extreme adverse effects encountered in the AD patient group compared with the healthy group. Plasma concentrations of velnacrine over time in both groups are given, as well as the drug's half-life and excretion rates.

Results: The tolerable dosage predicted by studies performed in healthy elderly subjects was 300 mg/d. This dosage was not tolerable among the AD patients. A dosage as high as 450 mg/d resulted in a tonic seizure in one patient. The predicted dosage of 300 mg/d produced an adverse effect profile in AD patients that included dizziness, nausea and/or vomiting, headaches, and severe diarrhea. AD patients tolerated a dosage of 225 mg/d.

Conclusions: A velnacrine dosage of 300 mg/d that was tolerated in healthy elderly subjects was not tolerated by AD patients.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / drug therapy*
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors / administration & dosage
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors / adverse effects
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Tacrine / administration & dosage
  • Tacrine / adverse effects
  • Tacrine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Tacrine / therapeutic use


  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors
  • Tacrine
  • velnacrine