The New York Times is reporting that researchers revealed this week an experimental drug that has been shown to slow the decline in mental function in Alzheimer’s patients.
The news is most welcome as many promising contemporary approaches to therapy have resulted in repeated failures.
If the results from the small trial are replicated in larger trials, the drug, being developed by Biogen Idec, could achieve sales of billions of dollars a year. Biogen said it hopes to begin mass production later this year.
The drug, aducanumab, greatly exceeded expectations in some cases. Progress with Alzheimer’s patients is measured in terms of how much a dose can show to have slowed cognitive decline. Also reported was a negative side effect that may make the drug’s results much less favorable when taken in very high doses.
Biogen’s stock has risen about 50 percent since early December, when the company first announced that the drug had slowed cognitive decline in the trial, without saying by how much.
The medical community and stock market analysts had been eagerly awaiting the detailed results, some of them flying to France to hear Biogen researchers present them at a neurology meeting last Friday.
Aducanumab, which until now has been called BIIB037, is designed to get rid of amyloid plaque in the brain, which is widely believed to be a cause of the dementia in Alzheimer’s disease.
However, other drugs designed to prevent or eliminate plaque have failed in large clinical trials, raising questions about what role the plaque really plays.
Previous studies have show that treatment with aducanumab reduced the amount of amyloid plaque in the brain. Amyloid plaque is believed to be largely responsible for the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s.
The company points to a series of exploratory analyses, showing a dose-dependent, statistically significant effect of slowing clinical decline was observed on the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) and Clinical Dementia Rating (CDR) scales.
“This is the first time an investigational drug for Alzheimer’s disease has demonstrated a statistically significant reduction on amyloid plaque as well as a statistically significant slowing of clinical impairment in patients with prodromal or mild disease,” said Dr. Alfred Sandrock, group senior vice president and chief medical officer at Biogen. “Based on these results, we are advancing the aducanumab clinical program to Phase 3 with plans to initiate enrollment later this year.”
Hopeful news for Boomers?
It’s significant any time there is a promising development in treatment for a chronic disease that is ultimately fatal. Because of a population trend, this development might prove to be particularly significant.
One of the major Alzheimer’s risk factors is age. With the huge Baby Boom generation now entering its senior years, the risk of a surge in Alzheimer’s cases is growing.
A report (PDF) last month by the Alzheimer’s Association projected the cost of treating the disease in the U.S. could swell to $1 trillion a year by 2050.
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