New Alzheimer's drug from Biogen and Eisai shows promise in mid-stage trials

Currently prescribed drugs to Alzheimer's patients offer symptomatic relief, but do not slow, stop or reverse the damage done.

Over the last decade, research on treatments for Alzheimer's disease has been plagued with relentless challenges, a series of unsuccessful drug candidates, and a 99.6 percent failure rate.

New Alzheimers drug from Biogen and Eisai shows promise in mid-stage trials

Representative image of blister packets for medicines, tablets and pills. Reuters.

The challenge

Today, therapies for Alzheimer's are a glaring absence from research pipelines of most pharmaceutical companies for this reason. Earlier this year, Pfizer, too, announced that after having invested heavily in finding effective drugs for Alzheimer's, they will no longer be working on finding cures for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, despite the dearth of treatments for these chronic and neurodegenerative diseases.

The big deal

Massachusetts-based Biogen Inc and Japanese drugmaker Eisai announced on Friday that results from Phase II trials of the Alzheimer's drug— a beta-amyloid antibody called BAN2401— showed positive results for patients who received the highest dose in an ongoing study.

Marking a significant milestone in the companies' quest to tackle Alzheimer's disease, the pair announced in a 5 July statement that the candidate drug, BAN2401, showed a statistically significant slowing of this brain-wasting disease at the highest dose after 18 months, compared to a placebo. As with the many previous beta-amyloid drugs observed at this stage of trials, some patients developed swelling of the brain as a side-effect to the treatment.

The drug

The beta-amyloid protein has been the target of a majority of drug trials since it was first hypothesized as the primary cause of Alzheimer’s. BAN2401 is one of many drugs formulated to target beta-amyloid—a protein that forms plaques in the brain and is theorised as the cause for the gradual neurodegeneration associated with Alzheimer's. Currently, this is as much as researchers theoretically understanding of how Alzheimer's is caused.

Results from the trial, which involved 856 patients in mild and early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, came as a surprise to many after earlier results from the same study showed that the drug had no benefit at 12 months.

The scope

There are currently no available treatments that slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. The drugs prescribed to patients so far can offer some symptomatic relief from dementia, but do not slow, stop or reverse the disease progression. Biogen is 'cautiously optimistic' about the Phase III trial for BAN2401, which is also the final trial, the results of which are expected in late 2019 or early 2020.

The two drugmakers are also allied in the development of a second drug for Alzheimer’s, called aducanumab, which is currently in Phase III trials.

With inputs from Reuters

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