One of them, which may halt the disease or even prevent it, is ready for its first human trials. BY ANDREA PETERSEN Wall Street Journal
In a significant advancement for the next generation of Alzheimer's treatments, Neurochem Inc. says it will begin recruiting patients for a large efficacy trial of its drug Alzhemed in the next few weeks. The drug is at the leading edge of a wave of coming treatments that offer some hope to the 4.5 million Americans struck with the memory-robbing illness. Unlike current drugs, which generally treat the symptoms of Alzheimer's, the new drugs target the underlying illness itself. The aspiration is that these medicines will be able to halt the devastating progression of the disease — or prevent it entirely.
Alzhemed, which helps prevent the formation of the plaques many scientists think are the culprit in Alzheimer's disease, could be on the market within four years. The new study will enroll 950 patients over 18 months, at 70 sites in the United States and Canada. Eli Lilly & Co. is at an earlier stage in its testing of a drug that inhibits an enzyme involved in plaque formation. That drug is in early trials and could be available to consumers in three to five years. Further down the road are so-called vaccines that aim to clean out the plaques after they have formed in the brain. Lilly and Wyeth are working on such treatments.
At the same time, researchers are conducting large clinical trials of existing drugs, vitamins and herbs to see if they might be useful in combating or preventing Alzheimer's. For example, data suggests that people who have taken cholesterol-lowering statins and anti-inflammatory drugs for arthritis have a lower incidence of Alzheimer's disease. And the Chinese herb huperazine has been found to have many of the same properties as certain Alzheimer's drugs.
The new developments come at a critical time. Doctors expect the numbers of Alzheimer's patients to sharply increase in the coming decades, as people live longer and as huge numbers of baby boomers enter the years when they are at highest risk for the disease. All of the drugs have some hurdles to clear before patients could benefit. Patients interested in the upcoming trial of Alzhemed can check out the company's Web site for more information, at www.neurochem.com.