Eli Lilly bets big on late-stage Alzheimer's drugs

Alzheimer's has long been one of the most difficult and confusing targets in drug development. But lured by the prospect of mega-blockbuster revenue for any new drug that alleviates key symptoms of the memory-wasting disease, Eli Lilly has wagered heavily on two late-stage programs, with more therapies being tested further down the pipeline.

Barclays' Tony Butler told Bloomberg that a drug that demonstrates an ability to reduce memory loss should be able to garner $5 billion in annual sales. But collecting that money is far from a sure thing. "It's a very risky area," says Butler.

Lilly's strategy has been to target the plaque that accumulates in the brains of Alzheimer's patients, even though scientific opinion isn't unanimous that beta amyloid is responsible for the disease.

Nevertheless, Lilly's semagacestat and solanezumab programs target beta amyloid along different pathways, and researchers have been recruiting more than 1,000 patients for each of a series of late-stage trials. "We know our drugs are having an effect in the brain," says Eric Siemers, Lilly's medical director on the Alzheimer's team. "Now, is it enough of an effect? We don't know."

Investors have been here before. The need for Alzheimer's drugs is so high that the bar for an approval is relatively low. But after Dimebon failed a late-stage trial recently, failing to perform any better than a sugar pill, analysts have grown wary about predicting successes or failures.

One area where there has been clear success, though, is in diagnosing the ailment. Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, in particular, has been singled out for its success in developing an effective new diagnostic test for the disease.

- here's the article from Bloomberg