By Peter Loftus
In the latest failed attempt to help people with Alzheimer's, a study found that experimental drugs from Eli Lilly & Co. and Roche Holdings AG failed to help people with a rare, inherited form of the dementia-causing disease.
The negative outcome continues a long streak of studies in which experimental drugs fail to slow, halt or reverse the underlying worsening of Alzheimer's disease. Current treatments for Alzheimer's only temporarily alleviate symptoms but can't halt the underlying disease.
Some drugmakers including Pfizer Inc. have exited from Alzheimer's research, but much of the industry continues to push ahead, given the growing burden of Alzheimer's. Last year, Biogen Inc. reversed course and said it would pursue regulatory approval for an experimental Alzheimer's drug despite previously finding disappointing results in studies.
Last year, there were 405 drugs being studied for Alzheimer's, up from 381 in 2018 and ranking Alzheimer's behind several types of cancer as top areas of research, according to a report from research firm Informa UK Ltd.
The latest clinical trial, led by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and funded by the National Institute on Aging, tested the drugs in people with dominantly inherited Alzheimer's disease, which affects less than 1% of the Alzheimer's population.
People confirmed to have the genetic mutations are almost certain to develop Alzheimer's, and it often starts in their 30s to 50s, younger than most Alzheimer's patients. If a person's parent had the mutation, they have a 50-50 chance of inheriting it.
The trial, which started in 2012, tested the ability of the two drugs to slow the worsening of cognitive function in people with the mutations. Patients either had no symptoms or mild dementia at the start of the trial. Some of the 194 participants were given Lilly's solanezumab, others were given Roche's gantenerumab and a third group received a placebo.
Neither drug was able to slow cognitive decline as measured by several tests of thinking and memory, Washington University School of Medicine said Monday.
Lilly's shares fell about 1% and Roche's American depositary receipts edged higher in recent trading Monday.
The Lilly and Roche drugs are designed to work by reducing a sticky substance called beta amyloid that builds up in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.
Lilly and Roche have previously tested their drugs in clinical trials of patients with the more common form of Alzheimer's that typically affects people 65 and older. Lilly's drug failed to significantly help patients and Roche halted two studies of its drug after concluding it wouldn't help.
Lilly said it won't pursue an application for regulatory approval of solanezumab to treat dominantly inherited Alzheimer's. Roche said it is unable to draw firm conclusions about the effect of gantenerumab in inherited Alzheimer's.
Roche and Lilly said their experimental drugs continue to be tested in other clinical trials. Many companies are testing higher doses of their drugs, and at earlier stages of disease than in previous failed trials of the same drugs.
Washington University School of Medicine researchers said they plan to present more detailed analyses of the trial at medical meetings in April and July.
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