Medical hope for Alzheimer's drug dashed after treatment fails to benefit patients in trials
05:30 GMT, 8 August 2012
An injection that was one of the highest medical hopes for the treatment of Alzheimer's has failed to help patients in its first trial.
Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson's Alzheimer's drug didn't have any benefit for patients showing early signs of the disease.
But the drug could get another chance as scientists test whether the devastating illness should be treated before symptoms appear.
Brain scans: The top scans show a normal healthy brain but the red colours in the bottom set are a warning of Alzheimer's Disease
Pfizer and J&J said that they were scrapping large-scale clinical trials of the experimental drug bapineuzumab in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease, after the drug failed to improve their memory or thinking skills.
While disappointing to millions of Alzheimer's patients and their families, the result was no surprise to researchers or investors who had anticipated a slim chance of success.
That's because scientists now view Alzheimer's as a decades-long process in which the toxic protein beta amyloid gradually builds up in the brain before dementia sets in.
They believe the best hope now is testing drugs much earlier in this process, before the disease has done too much damage. But some fear that companies like Pfizer and J&J may balk over the long haul after spending billions on failed experiments.
Disappointment: Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson's Alzheimer's drug has failed to help patients in a ten year trial
'Even though the scientific rationale might still be valid and strong and not adequately tested in the phase of the disease where you might expect the therapy to work, that may be lost to investors,' said Dr. Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer's Disease Research Center in Rochester, Minnesota. 'I hope that is not the case.'
Pfizer and J&J said they do not yet have plans to test the compound in people at risk for Alzheimer's, but who do not have symptoms.
The companies, which are developing the drug together, are due to present data next month showing whether it reduced levels of beta amyloid in the brain as well as other so-called biomarkers, and that will determine whether it can be used in earlier trials, researchers said.
'The jury is still out about the earlier use of bapineuzumab and other medications like it for earlier stages of the disease,' said Dr. Steven Salloway of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, who chaired the scientific steering committees for late-stage studies of the treatment.
These so-called biomarker results will be released on Sept. 11 at a medical meeting in Stockholm.
'If the biomarkers move in a positive direction, that is encouraging with regard to moving earlier,' said Petersen. 'Ultimately, you'd like to go into asymptomatic patients.'