Tuesday, February 11, 2020
Scientists collected a group of candidates that were still healthy but had a genetic mutation that unfortunately guaranteed they would develop dementia. During a five year study, the candidates received monthly infusions or injections of one of two experimental drugs, along with annual blood tests, brain scans, spinal taps and cognitive tests. Contrary to the hopes of the scientists participating in the study, the medications did nothing to stop or slow the cognitive decline of the patients.
The data from the study is still being analyzed, so there could be some adjustments to get better results in the future, such as higher doses or starting the drugs on younger patients. The study was small, with only 194 participants, 52 of which took a drug called gantenerumab, made by Roche, and an equal number took solanezumab, made by Eli Lilly. The participants all carried gene mutations that cause an overproduction of amyloid, which accumulates in hard plaques in the brain and is a sure sign of Alzheimer's.
Many anti-amyloid drug trials have failed recently, and companies have spent billions of dollars of this avenue, with the company Pfizer completely bowing out of the race. But many researchers are not ready to throw in the flag. The disease always progresses in the same manner, with an accumulation of amyloid and then the emergence of another protein, tau. “Amyloid and tau define the disease. Bingo,” said Dr. Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. “To not attack amyloid doesn’t make sense.”
Dr. Randall Bateman, a neurologist at Washington University in St. Louis and principal investigator of the study, says that his heart goes out to the patients that have this genetic mutation and are destined to get Alzheimer's. We don’t have anything now to treat these people,” he said, as there are four drugs that slow the mental decline, but none that stop it.
See Gina Kolata, An Alzheimer’s Treatment Fails: ‘We Don’t Have Anything Now’, New York Times, February 10, 2020.
Special thanks to Lewis Saret (Attorney, Washington, D.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.