Alzheimer’s drug scrapped

Topics covered: Ridouts professional advice

Two large pharmaceutical companies in the US have decided not to go ahead with the development of an Alzheimer’s drug because it failed in two late-stage clinical trials.

Pfizer Inc and Johnson & Johnson said they would discontinue all other studies of the drug bapineuzumab including two more trials and follow-up extension studies, in patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s. Bapineuzumab, was designed to halt build-up of plaque in the brain but it failed to improve cognitive or functional performance compared with a placebo in certain patients. Steven Romano, head of Pfizer’s Medicines Development Group said they were “obviously very disappointed” with the outcome of the trial and that they were “saddened by the lost opportunity to provide a meaningful advance for patients afflicted with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers“.

The result was particularly disappointing as bapineuzumab had been given a better chance of success in the patients studied in the second trial. If successful, it would have been the first drug to fight the progression of the debilitating brain disease. Some experts predicted that the bapineuzumab studies would fail because the patients’ brains were already damaged. William Thies, the chief scientific officer of the Alzheimer’s Association said that “one of the strong thoughts in the field is that you really have to treat people before they become demented“. However, he went on to say that “these studies are terribly important for us to learn about Alzheimer’s disease, and that part of the process is just starting as the data continues to be crunched in a variety of ways”.

Shares in all three drugs firms fell as a result of the latest disappointment. However, a successful Alzheimer’s treatment is likely to reap billions of pounds in sales, and many investors are holding shares in the companies. Eli Lilly & Co is developing a similar drug named solanezumab and so there is still hope that the drug may succeed.

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