Mar 28, 2017

Setback in Alzheimer’s Research: What’s Next?

The last few months have had some challenging outcomes Alzheimer’s research.

Scientists at the Merck, a American pharmaceutical company, recently announced that they were ending the trials for their latest Alzheimer’s drug after results were proving to be ineffective.

There were in the midst of Phase 2 and 3 EPOCH trial of verubecestat as a treatment for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. The decision to end the trial came after Data Monitoring Committee (eDMC), an external review board, reported that there was “virtually no chance of finding a positive clinical effect” from the trial.

However, eDMC have recommended that Merck continue its study and focus the therapy’s effect on people who are in an earlier stage of Alzheimer’s, those who may have memory problems but are still functionally independent.

Last November Eli Lilly, another American pharmaceutical company, also announced that they were ending their trials for an injectable therapy for mild to moderate forms of Alzheimer’s.

The two therapies, verubecestat and Eli Lilly’s solanezumab, were similar in that they targeted the build up of protein in the brain which become clumps of plaque. This plaque is commonly found in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s disease,

Where is the Research Going?

What some researchers have claimed is that this lack of progress, in terms of finding treatments, should mean there is a re-evaluation in how they approach their research. Brain diseases like Dementia and Alzheimer’s are highly complex, which means there are lots of detailed aspects of it that need looked into and different potentials, which makes the research equally complex as the disease itself.

There are many different research angles when it comes to Alzheimer’s therapies. Some medication slow progression of the symptoms, these are “disease modifying drugs” which are used to stop or slow down the death of brain cells.

Other medications are “symptomatic drugs” which aim to boost memory and other cognitive functions by helping the dying brain cells to work more effectively

The challenges they have faced is not new to medical research – similar results happened when looking into treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS). Similarly, oncology reportedly has the highest rate of failure during therapy trials – but that doesn’t stop the drive to find a cure for cancer.

When therapies are limited and new interventions fail, it becomes an opportunity to begin new research and better understand the disease – thus bringing researchers one step closer to new and more effective treatments.

But it’s not all bad news for Alzheimer’s research, Eli Lilly, in a collaboration with AstraZeneca, are still in the process of trialling a new drug which is not due until May 2019.

There are also other promising drugs that are being introduced – some that target inflammation and other changes in the brain.

Despite some Alzheimer’s research having setbacks, people should be aware that more time, money and energy is being utilised for new research and development of Alzheimer’s treatments and that it isn’t simply being dismissed.

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