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Sunday 16th June 2019

Alzheimer's drug halted after trials

7th August 2012

Two U.S. drug companies have halted trials of an experimental drug to treat Alzheimer's after it failed to produce any improvement in the symptoms of dementia sufferers.

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Pfizer Inc. and Johnson & Johnson had been testing bapineuzumab, a drug designed to target the brain plaques found in Alzheimer's patients, in the first of four pivotal studies.

However, the drug failed to improve cognitive or functional ability in patients who carry the gene ApoE4, which makes those who have it more likely to develop the disease. Later results showed it also failed to produce an improvement in patients with lower genetic risk.

The results are a setback for the consortium, which is in a race with Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly to develop the first drug that targets the cause of Alzheimer's as opposed to its symptoms.

The companies have now said that they will stop developing bapineuzumab, because the results were no better than those obtained with a placebo in certain patients.

The sixth leading cause of death in the US, Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, affecting around 36 million people around the world.

The news comes after the companies announced the failure of the first clinical trial of the intravenous version of the drug on July 23.

However, Johnson and Johnson said a study examining the safety and effectiveness of the drug when delivered under the skin would go ahead as planned.

The companies began developing the drug after autopsies of Alzheimer's patients showed they all had an accumulation of beta amyloid plaques in their brains, suggesting a potential avenue for drug development.

However, other factors are involved in the development of dementia, including the production of too much of a protein known as tau.

According to Maria Carrillo, director of medical and scientific relations for the Alzheimer’s Association, pharmaceutical companies are likely to start looking for other targets than amyloid plaques.

The association estimates that there are currently more than 40 different compounds in various stages of testing for use in the treatment of the disease.

Experts had already criticised the approach because it sought to treat people whose brains were already damaged by Alzheimer's.

According to William Thies, chief scientific officer of the Alzheimer's Association, there is now an emerging consensus that Alzheimer's treatment should begin before dementia has set in.

Johnson and Johnson had said they could pour up to US$1.5 billion (£961 million) to develop bapineuzumab, which could still yet be tested as a preventative treatment.

Thies said such trials, even though the drug had failed to show results, were very valuable because of the additional data they provided on the disease.

Pfizer's medicine development chief Steven Romano said the company was disappointed with the result, and saddened by the loss of an opportunity to improve the lives of Alzheimer's patients and those who care for them.

Meanwhile, the results of trials of Eli Lilly's experimental Alzheimer's drug, solanezumab, will be available later this year. The drug is also considered by critics to be something of a "long shot."


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