Preclinical study triggers 'massive response' from desperate Alzheimer's patients

It's quite common on the R&D side of the business to see patients tracking the discovery work being done on their disease, particularly if they have an ailment that can't be effectively treated with any approved drug. Late last week, though, scientists found themselves in the spotlight after finding that an approved drug--Eisai's cancer therapy bexarotene--countered the impact of Alzheimer's in mice. And patients and their families were quick to besiege providers with requests to use the drug on an off-label basis.

"The Alzheimer's community is very desperate for anything that shows any sign of hope or promise," Eric Hall, CEO of the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, tells The Wall Street Journal.

"To patients and families who are this motivated, the idea of an off-label pill is not a major leap," neurologist Sam Gandy told the Journal. But it's also not necessarily a good idea to start taking a cancer drug for a completely unproven use. It's not at all uncommon for a mouse study to lead investigators down a blind alley, with no utility in humans. And in this case there's no solid idea of just what the prospective dosage should be, among other issues.

One of the scientists at the center of the media storm, Gary Landreth, says he's been the subject of a "massive response." He's starting a small study involving 12 subjects in a few weeks, but that's as far as the clinical plans extend for now.

The intense response underscores just how big a market awaits any drug developer that can begin to treat Alzheimer's. Ironically, though, neuroscience has become increasingly unpopular in the biopharma world, where the science is murky and patient outcomes hard to track.

- here's the story from The Wall Street Journal