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Alzheimer’s trial studies two drugs’ ability to prevent disease

September 20, 2013
by Lois A. Bowers, Senior Editor
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Can medication prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease before dementia begins? Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have begun a clinical trial of two new drugs aimed at answering that question.

“We believe that the diverse portfolio of drugs and approaches…will accelerate the discovery of an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s,” says Randall Bateman, MD, the trial’s principal investigator.

Gantenerumab and solanezumab are the treatments under study. The former is an antibody that binds to all forms of aggregated amyloid beta and helps remove them from the brain. The latter is a monoclonal antibody that binds to soluble monomeric forms of amyloid-beta after they are produced, allowing them to be cleared before they clump together to form beta-amyloid plaques.

“Trying to prevent Alzheimer’s symptoms from occurring is a new strategy, but much of what we’ve learned in recent years about Alzheimer’s and the brain has suggested that prevention has a significantly better chance of succeeding than treatment after cognitive impairment,” said John C. Morris, MD, a university faculty member whose research laid the groundwork for the new trial.

The study is funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health that totals $1.5 million in 2013 but could provide as much as $6 million over the four years of the project. Additional funding comes from a $4.2 million grant from the Alzheimer’s Association as well as financial support from Roche and Eli Lilly and Co., makers of the treatments used in the trials (the companies also are donating the drugs). Eli Lilly subsidiary Avid Radiopharmaceuticals is donating a new agent, Amyvid, for imaging brain plaques, and Cogstate is donating a computerized set of tests to help assess cognitive function in participants.

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