Alzheimer's researchers say they are undeterred by latest drug failure
Published Sunday, May 26, 2013 9:50PM EDT
Medical researchers say they are not giving up hope in the battle against Alzheimer’s disease after data revealed that a much-anticipated drug failed to slow the progression of the disease.
Baxter International announced last week it would discontinue research on its experimental drug Gammagard, after tests showed it did not stabilize or slow dementia in patients who received 18 months’ worth of the blood-product compound.
The study included patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s -- a progressive neurological disease that affects memory, thought processes and cognitive behaviour.
The news came as a blow to patients and researchers who were hoping Gammagard was a breakthrough treatment.
For over a year, Alzheimer’s patient Keith Robson helped test Gammagard.
“I am disappointed that it hasn’t paid off the way I thought it would,” Robson said.
Frederic Calon, professor at the Centre Hospitalier de l’Universite Laval in Quebec, said Gammagard’s failure to produce the desired result is the latest in a long string of scientific disappointments in the fight to find an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s.
“In the last 10 years we have seen almost 100 compounds that have failed in Phase 3, so we tend to become a little accustomed to negative data,” he said in an interview with CTV News.
Only a handful of drugs have been approved for Alzheimer’s and dementia since the 1990s. Since then, billions of dollars have been thrown at experimental therapies, also with little to show for it.
There is concern in the scientific community that drug companies may stop funding the research if it isn’t paying off.
“For us, it tends to be more difficult now to attract funding from private companies,” Calon said.
Meanwhile, the cost of caring for Alzheimer’s patients is already taking its toll as the number of those affected continues to rise.
According to the World Health Organization, nearly 35.6 million people worldwide live with dementia. That number is projected to double by 2030 and more than triple by 2050.
According to the WHO, the cost to care for people with dementia around the world currently costs over $604 billion (USD) per year.
Dr. Sharon Cohen, medical director of the Toronto Memory Program, a clinic that recruits seniors with early memory problems to test other drugs in the research pipeline, says despite all the bad news, she’s still hopeful.
“There are over 60 compounds now actively being investigated in Alzheimer’s clinic trials,” she said. “That’s not a wasteland.”
And, a new study shows that effective treatment of Alzheimer’s may come in the form of a tablet already found in most pharmacies and nutrition stores.
The study of elderly people with dementia risk found that a high-dose of B-vitamin supplements slowed the atrophy of specific brain regions associated with cognitive decline.
The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, showed, among other results, that B-vitamin treatment reduced as much as seven-fold the cerebral atrophy in gray matter regions specifically vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease.
With a report from CTV’s medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip