International collaboration undertakes expansive effort funded by NIH and industry.
An international group of researchers and scientists is launching a pioneering trial to investigate whether a preventive treatment for Alzheimer’s disease can help people at high risk of the disease avoid developing it.
The trial will test whether a treatment to clear the accumulation in the brain of amyloid, a protein thought to play a key role in the progression of Alzheimer's disease, can stave off the disease in a group of cognitively healthy people genetically at high risk of developing the disease.
“If the study demonstrates that we can prevent the disease in this special group of patients, it may pave the way to preventing Alzheimer’s in the general population,” says Richard Scheller, executive vice president of research and early development at Genentech, which will underwrite the majority of the trial’s $100 million cost.
The National Institutes of Health, Banner Alzheimer's Institute, University of Antioquia in Colombia, and Genentech say the trial will help launch a new era of prevention research in the fight against Alzheimer's and serve as the cornerstone of a new international collaborative, the Alzheimer's Prevention Initiative.
If crenezumab, developed by Genentech in collaboration with Swiss biotech company AC Immune, is shown to sustain memory and cognition in people at risk of developing Alzheimer's, further prevention trials could be designed to test it and other anti-amyloid drugs in larger groups of patients. The study could also help establish a much more rapid way to test future therapies.
The study will be supported with a five-year NIH grant expected to total $16 million, as well as a Banner institute commitment of $15 million in philanthropic funds.
About 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, a number expected to top 7.7 million by 2030. Globally, the disease and other dementias are expected to affect nearly 66 million people by then.
Experimental drugs to reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer’s have failed to date, leading many researchers to the conclusion that the disease must be attacked before the onset of symptoms.
“The possibilities ahead are tremendous,” says Pierre Tariot, director of Banner Alzheimer's Institute. “If this approach to fighting Alzheimer's is successful, it has the potential to transform all future prevention and treatment research and to herald the beginning of the end of this devastating disease.”
By MICHAEL FITZHUGH