Background: Donepezil hydrochloride (Aricept) is a selective acetylcholinesterase inhibitor developed for the treatment of Alzheimer disease. This phase 3 study was 1 of 2 pivotal trials undertaken to establish the efficacy and safety of using donepezil in patients with mild to moderately severe Alzheimer disease.
Objectives: To further examine the efficacy and safety of using donepezil in the treatment of patients with mild to moderately severe Alzheimer disease. To examine the relationships between plasma donepezil concentrations, inhibition of red blood cell acetylcholinesterase activity, and clinical response.
Methods: This was a 12-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group trial with a 3-week single-blind washout. Outpatients at 23 centers in the United States were randomized to receive placebo, 5 mg of donepezil hydrochloride, or 10 mg of donepezil hydrochloride (5 mg/d during week 1 then 10 mg/d thereafter) administered once daily at bedtime. Primary efficacy was measured using the Alzheimer's Disease Assessment Scale-Cognitive Subscale (ADAS-cog) and Clinician's Interview-Based Impression of Change including caregiver information (CIBIC plus).
Results: A total of 468 patients entered the study, more than 97% of whom were included in the intention-to-treat (end point) analyses. The use of donepezil produced statistically significant improvements in ADAS-cog, CIBIC plus, and Mini-Mental State Examination scores, relative to placebo. The mean drug-placebo differences, at end point, for the groups receiving 5 mg/d and 10 mg/d of donepezil hydrochloride were, respectively, 2.5 and 3.1 units for ADAS-cog (P<.001); 0.3 and 0.4 units for CIBIC plus (P< or =.008); and 1.0 and 1.3 units for Mini-Mental State Examination (P< or =.004). On the CIBIC plus scale, 32% and 38% of patients, respectively, treated with 5 mg/d and 10 mg/d of donepezil hydrochloride demonstrated clinical improvement (a score of 1, 2, or 3) compared with placebo (18%). The mean (+/-SEM) donepezil plasma concentrations at study end point were 25.9 +/- 0.7 ng/mL and 50.6 +/- 1.9 ng/mL in the groups receiving dosages of 5 mg/d and 10 mg/d, respectively. Corresponding mean (+/-SEM) percentages of inhibition of red blood cell acetylcholinesterase activity were 63.9% +/- 0.9% and 74.7% +/- 1.2% for these 2 dosages, respectively. There was a statistically significant positive correlation between plasma concentrations of donepezil and acetylcholinesterase inhibition; the EC50 (50% effect) was obtained at a concentration of 15.6 ng/mL. A plateau of inhibition (80%-90%) was reached at plasma donepezil concentrations higher than 50 ng/mL. The correlations between plasma drug concentrations and both ADAS-cog (P<.001) and CIBIC plus (P = .006) were also statistically significant, as were the correlations between red blood cell acetylcholinesterase inhibition and change in ADAS-cog (P<.001) and CIBIC plus (P = .005). The incidence of treatment-emergent adverse events with both dosages of donepezil (68%-78%) was comparable with that observed with placebo (69%). The use of 10 mg/d of donepezil hydrochloride was associated with transient mild nausea, insomnia, and diarrhea. There were no treatment-emergent clinically significant changes in vital signs or clinical laboratory test results. More important, the use of donepezil was not associated with the hepatotoxic effects observed with acridine-based cholinesterase inhibitors.
Conclusion: Donepezil hydrochloride (5 and 10 mg) administered once daily is a well-tolerated and efficacious agent for treating the symptoms of mild to moderately severe Alzheimer disease.