J&J, nonprofits fund new research into links between Down syndrome, Alzheimer's

The hunt for new biomarkers that can help guide the diagnosis and, eventually, some method of treatment for Alzheimer's has spurred Big Pharma and nonprofit groups to fund a careful investigation into the disease's links to Down syndrome.

As Elizabeth Lopatto at Bloomberg writes, the Global Down Syndrome Foundation in Denver and the Chicago-based Alzheimer's Association have joined forces to provide $1.2 million to 5 investigators to study the ties between the diseases. Down syndrome patients typically develop beta amyloid deposits in the brain by age 40 and half have dementia by 50.

Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), meanwhile, is financing work at UC San Diego into the links between the diseases.

Understanding what causes the disease to develop in these patients, as well as why some Down syndrome patients with beta amyloid concentrations don't go on to suffer from dementia, could help shed considerable light on new efforts for diagnosis and treatment.

J&J--which has spent a fortune on a failed Alzheimer's drug and is hard at work advancing new programs, highlighted by a recent collaboration with Germany's Evotec--is among the companies studying the link between Down syndrome and Alzheimer's. Lopatto reports that investigators are exploring the genetic drivers of beta amyloid as well as the biomarkers that can reliably flag disease progression in order to identify a DNA vaccine that could be used to thwart the memory-wasting ailment. And Down syndrome patients could benefit as well.

"In the best of all worlds, we could establish a proof of concept for treatment in Down subjects," says Mike Krams, vice-president of quantitative sciences at J&J.

- here's the story from Bloomberg

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