Flower Trial For Alzheimer’s Drug

Trials are being carried out in mid Wales to see whether daffodils could be farmed there to produce a compound used to fight Alzheimer’s disease. The compound called galantamine has previously been collected from plants in the wild and has been found to slow down the progress of the disease. A six month trial on seven sites in the Black Mountains is currently under way. As well as offering a cheaper drug source, farmers say it could also be a welcome means of diversification.

Professor Trevor Walker who is heading the research trial, said: “The compound that we’re getting from the daffodils will help, if its supplied properly and monitored properly, slow down the development of the disease. Prof Walker said if the disease could be slowed, there was “a very good chance” that patients could be kept out of care homes for a few years. He said that would reduce the stress to individuals and to their families “who also suffer very greatly from the pre-senile deterioration in the life of the patient”.

Prof Walker said they were hoping to produce a generic form of the compound and therefore reduce the cost to the patient. “At the moment compounds are too expensive to be put on the national health list in England and Wales, although they are prescribed in Scotland, ” he added.

Galantamine was originally extracted from wild snowdrops in the Balkans and then it was produced by a synthetic process which was very expensive.

According to farmers involved in the trials, the plants grown in Wales are particularly good at producing the compound. Farmer Kevin Stephens said: “We have noticed a significant increase with the altitude. So it could well be purely the altitude, it could be the climate at the altitude, we don’t know. So the purpose of the next six months is to evaluate what it is, which is why we’ve got seven trial sites around the Black Mountains.”

It is hoped the Welsh-produced drug currently under development at laboratories in Cardiff would be about half the cost of current drugs.

Growing daffodils is also an opportunity for hill farmers to diversify. Farmer John Price said: “We have always got to look at alternative enterprises and other ways of making use of hill ground other than livestock, and that’s the only use this type of ground would have.”