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Alzheimer's drug gives researchers hope, even if it raises further questions



One day after Biogen announced promising results on an experimental Alzheimer's drug, experts were optimistic that researchers could make a turnaround after years of failure with the mind-wracking disease.

Cambridge, Mass-based Biogen and Tokyo-based Eisai Co. this week released data from a medical study that showed their experimental drug taken in high doses, removed a brain protein found in Alzheimer's patients and slowed down memory and memory Thinking problems people in the early stages of the disease.

But investors asked on Thursday whether the drug called BAN2401 has the potential to become a blockbuster. Stock prices of both pharmaceutical companies plunged after details of the study were released Wednesday at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Chicago.

"The design and the statistics were so complicated that it is very difficult to interpret the clinical consequences of the treatment," said Pierre Tariot, a psychiatrist and director of the Banner Alzheimer's Institute in Phoenix.

The results of the drug trial were encouraging but "not definite," Tariot said.

Patients who took the highest doses of the experimental drug twice a month over IV had the most significant reduction of beta-amyloid, a protein that accumulates in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. These patients receiving the highest doses had a 30% reduction in "clinical decline" based on a test compared to those receiving placebo.

However, these results were a secondary measure in patients receiving 1

8 months of treatment. Not the 12-month measure that was the main objective of the study.

Nonetheless, Tariot said the study was a "boost to the field" because it was the second Alzheimer's drug to combine the reduction of beta-amyloid and mental deterioration. The other drug, aducanumab, also developed by Biogen, will be tested in later clinical trials.

Pharmaceutical companies have invested billions of dollars in anti-amyloid drugs that are believed to accumulate in the brain, disrupting communication between brain cells and killing them.

But drugs that target amyloid have not stopped mental decline.

A series of failed trials in clinical trials led many to wonder if pharmaceutical companies are on the right track.

"People were ready to say the amyloid theory was dead," said Marwan Sabbagh, a geriatric neurologist and director of the Cleveland Clinic's Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, Las Vegas. "This says strongly, with an exclamation point, that's not true."

Some believe that the key to early treatment begins even before memory and thinking problems arise.

Banner Alzheimer's Institute continues to test anti-amyloid drugs for people at high genetic risk but without symptoms. These studies – one of which involves a larger family in Colombia and a second, which involves healthy older adults at high genetic risk for the development of Alzheimer's disease – are testing medications prior to the onset of memory and thinking problems.

The Colombian clinical trial will conduct a study anti-amyloid drug, crenezumab, in a large family whose members carry a rare genetic mutation that guarantees they get Alzheimer's, usually from the mid-40s.

Preliminary data from researchers this week showed that more than 40 percent of Colombian family members had no signs of amyloid protein in the brain at baseline. Therefore, Tariot said the study will test the idea that a drug, if given early enough, can prevent the onset of the disease

"This will be the first attempt" that tests this theory, he said 2018 USATODAY.COM


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