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Startup Finds Hope in Second Look at 'Failed' Alzheimer’s Drugs

Wed, 10/30/2013 - 12:00am
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

A new startup hopes to spin drug candidate straw into medicinal gold by scouring data from failed clinical trials of Alzheimer’s treatments and identifying patient subtypes for whom the drugs may actually work. Alzheon, a Boston-area company, was founded with the belief that recent gains in the scientific community’s understanding of the disease, enabled by new technologies for genetic analysis and neuroimaging, can shine light into a vast morass of failed clinical trial data.

Alzheon will first take a closer look at a drug designed to target the brain-damaging amyloid plaques that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s. In the hands of another drug company, the compound had previously passed safety testing but did not show enough of an effect on cognitive impairment in studies of Alzheimer’s patients. However, later analyses suggest that in patients with a certain genetic marker for Alzheimer’s, the drug did slow brain atrophy significantly. Alzheon believes that a follow-up trial will prove the drug to be successful for patients with these markers.

Currently, there are no treatments for Alzheimer’s disease beyond drugs that temporarily alleviate symptoms. This is despite millions of dollars spent and decades of research by academics and drug companies, which seem to announce drug failures with depressing regularity (see “A New Setback for Alzheimer’s Drugs” and “Another Bust for Alzheimer’s Drugs”). Meanwhile, pressure to discover a viable treatment grows as the population ages (see “The Dementia Plague”).

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