Another fail­ure in search for treat­ment to slow Alzheimer’s

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

An ex­per­i­men­tal treat­ment for Alzheimer’s failed again in a widely an­tic­i­pated study, dis­ap­point­ing many who had hoped drug­maker Eli Lilly had fi­nally found a way to slow the pro­gres­sion of the mind-rob­bing dis­ease.

The drug did not work bet­ter than a placebo treat­ment in a study of more than 2,100 peo­ple with mild Alzheimer’s, the com­pany an­nounced Wed­nes­day. “We’re in­cred­i­bly sad­dened by the news,” said Maria Car­rillo, chief science of­fi­cer of the Alzheimer’s As­so­ci­a­tion, who was not in­volved in Lilly’s re­search. “There was a lot of hope for this av­enue, this ap­proach.”

Alzheimer’s ex­perts had mod­est ex­pec­ta­tions for the drug, called solanezumab (sohl-ah-NAYZ’-uh-mab). It had al­ready failed in two large stud­ies in peo­ple with mild-to-mod­er­ate forms of the dis­ease. Com­bined re­sults, how­ever, sug­gested that the drug might work for those with the mildest symp­toms.

Lilly started another study, test­ing monthly in­fu­sions of the drug for 18 months in those pa­tients. The drug binds to a pro­tein called amy­loid that builds up in the brains of Alzheimer’s pa­tients. The drug clears the pro­tein from the brain be­fore it can clump to­gether to form a sticky plaque be­tween nerve cells. Re­searchers think the pro­tein trig­gers the de­gen­er­a­tive dis­ease, which im­pairs mem­ory and thought.

Pre­ma­ture to aban­don

Amy­loid still plays some role, and it’s pre­ma­ture to aban­don the no­tion of tar­get­ing it, said a spe­cial­ist who has led many pre­vi­ous failed Alzheimer’s drug stud­ies. “When you get a re­sult like this you have to ques­tion, is it the stage of the dis­ease, is it the par­tic­u­lar drug you are test­ing, or is it some com­bi­na­tion? Or is the strat­egy wrong?” said Dr. Stephen Sal­loway, neu­rol­ogy chief at Brown Uni­ver­sity in Prov­i­dence, Rhode Is­land. “We don’t know the an­swer.”

Lilly’s drug is still be­ing stud­ied in two other ma­jor tests. One in­volves pa­tients with a rare, in­her­ited form of Alzheimer’s, and the other is a pre­ven­tion trial of peo­ple who have no symp­toms but have de­posits of amy­loid in their brain as seen on scans.

At least 18 other drugs are in lat­estage test­ing, in­clud­ing sev­eral sim­i­lar to solanezumab. Dietary ther­a­pies, sup­ple­ments and even a med­i­cal de­vice also are be­ing tried. “There are other ap­proaches that we need to pur­sue,” Car­rillo said. “We need to re­dou­ble our ef­forts.”

Sci­en­tists say the search for a bet­ter Alzheimer’s treat­ment presents sev­eral prob­lems. They also be­lieve changes in the brain of a per­son with Alzheimer’s be­gin many years be­fore the pa­tient shows symp­toms. That means that by the time di­ag­no­sis hap­pens, the brain may be es­sen­tially too dam­aged for po­ten­tial treat­ments to work.

Lilly has spent about $3 bil­lion over the past 27 years on Alzheimer’s re­search. One of the drug­maker’s re­searchers, Dr. Eric Siemers, said the lat­est re­sults were a “bump in the road,” and sci­en­tists are look­ing for­ward to learn­ing more from the re­sults of other po­ten­tial treat­ments. “We’re con­tin­u­ing to go for­ward, it’s just not as fast as we would like,” said Siemers.

With more than 5 mil­lion peo­ple in the United States af­flicted, Alzheimer’s is the most com­mon form of de­men­tia. There’s no known way to pre­vent, cure or even slow its pro­gres­sion. Cur­rent treat­ments on the mar­ket, like Ari­cept and Na­menda, only tem­po­rar­ily ease symp­toms such as mem­ory loss, con­fu­sion and ag­i­ta­tion.

Alzheimer’s pa­tients typ­i­cally live an av­er­age of eight years af­ter their symp­toms be­come no­tice­able, dur­ing which the dis­ease grad­u­ally erodes their mem­ory and abil­ity to think or per­form sim­ple tasks. Wall Street an­a­lysts had given Lilly’s drug rel­a­tively low odds of suc­cess. Even so, shares of In­di­anapo­lis-based Eli Lilly and Co. plunged more than 10 per­cent, or $8.02, to $67.97 Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon. Shares of other drug­mak­ers re­search­ing Alzheimer’s treat­ments, like Bio­gen Inc., also sank in early trad­ing.—AP

IN­DI­ANAPO­LIS: This June 30, 2011, file photo, shows the Eli Lilly and Com­pany cor­po­rate head­quar­ters.—AP

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