Alzheimer’s Treatment Showcase Is Set
Drug makers and imaging companies will showcase their latest scientific developments in investigational drugs and diagnostic tools for Alzheimer’s disease in Paris this week at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease, the field’s biggest annual meeting.
Alzheimer’s, the memory-robbing progressive brain disease, is believed to affect more than 5.4 million people in the U.S. and is projected to be diagnosed in as many as 16 million by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Available treatment options are limited to drugs that merely treat symptoms; nothing yet can slow or reverse the disease.
Several high-profile, late-stage trials have failed in the past three years. But the global market size for a highly effective treatment could be as much as $20 billion, according to estimates from some analysts, and several of the largest drug companies, including Pfizer Inc., Eli Lilly & Co. and Johnson & Johnson, are investing heavily in Alzheimer’s-related research-and-development efforts.
A large number of investigational therapies target a sticky substance called amyloid, which clumps in the brain of those with Alzheimer’s and is thought to contribute to the disease, but so far no drug has consistently shown that targeting amyloid leads to improvements in cognitive symptoms. More basic scientific understanding of the disease and current experimental compounds should help with future drug development.
For instance, one of the compounds in late-stage development is a monoclonal antibody, bapineuzumab, from a partnership of Pfizer, J&J and Elan Corp. Findings from early trials of bapineuzumab showed that some patients experienced brain swelling, known as vasogenic edema, when they received the compound. Bapineuzumab is thought to work by removing amyloid from the brain.
The side effects caused concern at the Food and Drug Administration and led to an industrywide discussion about how to detect and monitor such amyloid-related imaging abnormalities in continuing clinical trials, which culminated in the Alzheimer’s Associaton and industry collaborators issuing a new set of recommendations just last week about detection and monitoring of these side effects. Any new data on such side effects from anti-amyloid compounds could help inform the field about safety more broadly of similar treatments under development by other companies.