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A week about Alzheimer’s drug development

March 18, 2021, 9:55 PM UTC

Good afternoon, readers.

The focus of today’s essay will not be COVID but about another horrible disease: Alzheimer’s.

It was an eventful week from both a drug development and research front on the memory-stealing ailment. Eli Lilly, one of the companies working on experimental treatments for Alzheimer’s, released additional data about its drug candidate donanemab, one of a slew of treatments in the works by pharmaceutical companies meant to attack amyloid plaque in the brain in order to halt the disease’s progression. That approach has led to multiple late-stage clinical failures, although firms such as Lilly and Biogen have continued to bet on it.

Investors were not impressed by Lilly’s results. The company’s shares dropped nearly 10% after the announcement on Monday, and are down more than 11% over the past five days. But Lilly executives urged caution and patience.

“I’m focused on the long-term future for Alzheimer’s patients,” said Dr. Daniel Skovronsky, the drug maker’s chief medical officer, in a conference call. “If you look at the data set … you see a package of results that are highly compelling that this will indeed become a medicine.”

Lilly says it can gain regulatory approval within the next two years by amassing more data in clinical trials. The mixed messages stem from mixed outcomes in the “endpoints” of the study data, the goals that a drug is supposed to achieve.

While the treatment did reduce amyloid plaque levels, which are associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia, other metrics on cognitive function weren’t quite that clear-cut.

And, yes, there is still a COVID tie-in showing how important these drug development efforts are. The pandemic fueled a 16% rise in Alzheimer’s related deaths as the risk for those most likely to have Alzheimer’s, when combined with the coronavirus, makes severe COVID illness far more likely.

We are all watching the vaccine effort, and for good reason. But other diseases need work, too.

Read on for the day’s news, and see you next week.

Sy Mukherjee


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