A Solution for Alzheimer's: It's Not a Matter of If, It's a Matter of When

A Solution for Alzheimer's: It's Not a Matter of If, It's a Matter of When

November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and while there is no cure for the disease, new medical advancements are made each day that brings us closer to a solution.

“We always hope,” Dr. Dean Hartley, Director of Science Initiatives at the Alzheimer’s Association, said. “It’s not a matter of if we find a treatment. We will. It’s a matter of when.”

In September, researchers found that a drug that didn’t stop mental decline in patients living with Alzheimer’s still showed a potential benefit. Patients who took the drug, developed by Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer Inc., had stable levels of brain plaque and less evidence of nerve damage. Researchers want to find out if the drug can work if it’s given to patients earlier in the course of the disease. In July, the developers announced the same drug failed in two late-stage clinical trials.

“A lot of drug trials fail,” Hartley said. “It’s not uncommon that many of these trials fail, many multiple times.”

Hartley says researches have to tweak when the treatment is delivered and the dosage.

“What’s most important here is the timing,” Hartley said.

That’s why researchers want to find out if this drug could help patients earlier in the Alzheimer’s disease process.

Hartley says other pharmaceutical companies are also working on solutions.

Eli Lilly is working on an Alzheimer’s treatment that showed some promise. While it didn’t show that it slowed a cognitive decline in two individual, smaller studies. When researchers combined the data, scientists did see a statistically significant slowing in the rate of cognitive decline. Washington University also recently picked Eli Lilly’s drug and another under development by Roche Holding AG for a high-profile Alzheimer’s drug study.

Hartley also pointed to a trial run by Baxter, which is creating a way to give the body antibodies, similar to the way a baby gets antibodies from a mother’s milk.

“They are currently in a phase 3 trial that we think will be released in 2013,” Hartley said.

He says it’s a much larger trial, “so we’re hoping that’s going to be optimistic.”

Finding a drug that could prevent or even just slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease is a sort of “Holy Grail” in the pharmaceutical industry. Not only could it help millions of people, it could bring in billions of dollars in sales.

However, Hartley says there is help for people living with Alzheimer’s disease right now.

“We don’t have treatments that change the course of disease, we do have symptomatic treatments that can help them,” he said. “It’s just like if you have a headache, you can take a medication that will help you get rid of that pain, but there may be underlying reasons you have the headache.”

The current medications help patients hold on to more cognitive abilities during the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Hartley says that is just one reason why early diagnosis is so important.

“I think it’s very important to be educated in the disease,” he said. “This is one reason why [it takes a toll on] a family caregiver who gets thrust into this position. Some people are not equipped to do this themselves.”

If you have questions about Alzheimer’s disease, you can visit www.alz.org

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