GE Healthcare, Japanese partner to pursue Alzheimer's Dx

GE Healthcare will join forces with a Japanese biotechnology venture in a bid to develop a different way to detect Alzheimer's disease in the brain at a very early stage. 

The U.K.-based division of the conglomerate General Electric ($GE) said it has signed a research collaboration deal with Clino, a venture launched by Japan's Tohoku University focused on discovering viable imaging tracers for tau proteins, which build up in the brains of Alzheimer's patients (along with amyloid proteins).

Neither side disclosed financial terms, although they say they will consider extending their collaboration with other companies and research institutes developing tau protein therapies. If their partnership is successful, they'll have a new way to diagnose how severe Alzheimer's symptoms have become and potentially treat the disease far sooner. This, in turn, both sides believe, will help spur development of new drug treatments that can "target tau proteins on the molecular level."

GE Healthcare is also far along in the development of its flutemetamol imaging agent designed to detect amyloid plaque in the brain, and the company recently announced promising early results for the compound from two Phase III studies. Eli Lilly ($LLY) just gained approval of an amyloid plaque radioactive diagnostic agent that can help obtain a diagnosis for possible Alzheimer's patients.

But developing viable tau tracers could aid early diagnoses and treatment of Alzheimer's patients even more than amyloid diagnostic tools alone, Tohoku University's Hiroyuki Arai explained in a statement. The idea, he said, would be to conduct tau PET imaging on healthy subjects who have tested positive in amyloid PET exams. If this becomes doable, he said, "it will become possible to identify those with high risk of converting to Alzheimer's. This could lead to the diagnoses of pre-clinical stage Alzheimer's disease, which may enable prevention before the onset of symptoms."

GE Healthcare cites statistics noting 35.6 million confirmed cases of Alzheimer's disease globally as of 2010, with projections that the number will reach 115.4 million cases by 2050.

- here's the release