Washington University in St. Louis and AstraZeneca Announce Alzheimer's Research Collaboration
April 17, 2008: 09:28 AM EST
ST. LOUIS, and WILMINGTON, Del., April 17 -- Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN) have announced a research collaboration that aims to develop new and improved ways to diagnose and treat Alzheimer's disease.
The major focus of the alliance will be biomarkers, characteristic changes in the brain and spinal fluid, that physicians can use to diagnose Alzheimer's disease and track its response to treatment. "Alzheimer's disease is already a huge public health problem that is increasing exponentially," says David M. Holtzman, M.D., the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and chair of the Department of Neurology at the School of Medicine, and neurologist-in-chief at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. "To prevent this disease with new treatments that are currently on the horizon, we need better ways to diagnose the disease before people become cognitively impaired. We are pleased to be collaborating with AstraZeneca on this important initiative."
"AstraZeneca is focused on transforming cutting edge science into meaningful medicines. Collaborating with Washington University gives us access to world-class expertise in the area of Alzheimer's disease and allows us to explore together potential new ways to help patients suffering from this terrible disease," says Bob Holland, Vice President for Neuroscience at AstraZeneca.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia and affects as many as 5 million Americans(1). Little is known about what causes Alzheimer's disease or how it progresses in patients, and the condition has always been difficult for physicians to definitively diagnose. In addition, studies by Washington University and others have shown that by the time patients begin to suffer obvious symptoms of dementia, Alzheimer's has already caused extensive and largely irreversible damage to the brain. These factors have made identification of biomarkers that allow earlier and more definite diagnosis of the disease a top priority for research.
The new research projects created by the Washington University and AstraZeneca collaborative agreement will include an effort to better understand the connections between Alzheimer's disease and a class of central nervous system compounds called tau proteins. These proteins help maintain the inner structures of nerve cells. Evidence suggests they undergo a chemical change in Alzheimer's patients, disrupting their ability to maintain nerve cell structure. This leads the tau proteins to snarl in tangles inside the cell that cause the cell to die. Researchers hope to identify changes in tau proteins present in the spinal fluid that they can add to a panel of indicators of Alzheimer's disease.
Other projects will include looking for new genetic markers linked to Alzheimer's disease risk and testing potential Alzheimer's treatments developed by AstraZeneca scientists in models used for Alzheimer's research by University faculty.
"Scientists from both organizations are very interested in finding new ways to diagnose and treat Alzheimer's," says Holtzman. "We believe that combining the world-class expertise and facilities that are found at AstraZeneca and Washington University will help us reach those goals more quickly than either institution could alone."
This new alliance with Washington University is one of several new alliances by AstraZeneca with leading academic and research institutions to address unmet medical needs through cutting-edge research across several disease areas, including Alzheimer's disease, chronic pain and psychiatric illnesses. These proposed new agreements complement existing AstraZeneca alliances in neuroscience and other key therapeutic areas with world-class institutions.
About Washington University in St. Louis
Washington University School of Medicine's 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked third in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The university has been a pioneering contributor to Alzheimer's disease research for more than three decades. Scientists at the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center pioneered the first technique for assessing dementia in the elderly. The Clinical Dementia Rating is now the standard tool worldwide for detecting Alzheimer's disease and assessing its clinical progression. To aid the development of new treatments, the university is currently at the forefront of the race to understand the biological and genetic causes of Alzheimer's. To allow patients to receive those treatments before Alzheimer's wreaks irreparable brain damage, Washington University scientists are also leading the hunt for ways to detect Alzheimer's disease before the onset of clinical dementia. The faculty includes multiple winners of the highest honors in Alzheimer's research, including the Potamkin Prize for Research in Pick's, Alzheimer's, and Related Diseases and the MetLife Foundation Award for Medical Research in Alzheimer's disease.
AstraZeneca is a major international healthcare business engaged in the research, development, manufacturing and marketing of meaningful prescription medicines and supplier for healthcare services. AstraZeneca is one of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies with healthcare sales of $29.55 billion and is a leader in gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, neuroscience, respiratory, oncology and infectious disease medicines. In the United States, AstraZeneca is a $13.35 billion dollar healthcare business with 12,200 employees committed to improving people's lives. AstraZeneca is listed in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (Global) as well as the FTSE4Good Index.