For years, scientists have been targeting a special compound in the brain which they believe is the key to curing Alzheimer's disease.
So far, clinical trials have yielded promising results. However, none of them has successfully rid the brain of the debilitating condition.
In a new study sponsored by companies Biogen Inc. and Eisai Co., another drug has failed to reduce the presence of beta amyloid in the brain. Beta amyloid is a protein that collects and turns into plaques that allegedly cause Alzheimer's disease.
Both Biogen Inc. and Eisai Co. have halted two late-stage clinical trials that were designed to evaluate the efficacy of the drug called aducanumab. This heartbreaking decision has left scientists looking for an alternative route to Alzheimer's disease treatment.
Murali Doraiswamy, an expert from Duke University, said beta amyloid plaques were never established as the causal in the first place. He said given the latest information, all ongoing trials must be re-evaluated.
Heartbreaking News To Aducanumab Patients
One of the patients who received the aducanumab treatment was 54-year-old Jeff Borghoff from Forked River, New Jersey.
For nearly three years, Borghoff would go to the Advanced Memory Research Institute for the aducanumab treatment. He would be hooked intravenously to the drug for 40 minutes to an hour.
The first 18 months of the clinical trial was a double-blind placebo study, which meant Jeff didn't know if he was receiving the treatment or the placebo. Jeff and his wife Kim felt that the clinical trial slowed down the progression of the disease.
On March 21st, Jeff's friend who was also enrolled in the clinical trial informed him of the bad news.
"I just knew right away," said Borghoff. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease at 51.
Another Direction In Alzheimer's Disease Treatment
Although the aducanumab treatment was halted, it has still helped researchers learn more about Alzheimer's disease, said Salim Syed, a biotech analyst at Mizuho Securities.
Meanwhile, Dr. Richard Mohs, former head of the Neuroscience Clinical program at Eli Lilly, said what the field needs to do now is to move on and look at other scientifically plausible ways to treat the disease.
"It's been difficult," said Mohs. He has been working on a different clinical trial that focused on tau, which is a protein that is believed to be linked to the disease.
Heather Snyder, senior director of medical operations at Alzheimer's Association, supported what Syed said about the clinical trials.
In fact, scientists have begun to understand that the brain starts to change about a decade or so before they're diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, said Snyder.
"We are absolutely committed to making sure no stone is left unturned and that all avenues are pursued," she said.
Snyder added that they are still optimistic that scientists' understanding of the disease continues to grow and develop.
Lary Walker, a neuropathologist from Emory University, said the drugs have failed so far because researchers are hitting the wrong form of compound. He said the recent data has shown that the toxic, smaller form of amyloid should be targeted instead.
George Perry, a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio who has been a critic of the beta amyloid theory, said experiments that target this compound has turned into a "religion."
Despite this, however, Perry is optimistic about future clinical trials, which may or may not involve targeting beta amyloid plaques.
"There will be more. It is not the end," said Perry.
Photo: Julien Belli | Flickr