Biogen gives Roche 'renewed confidence' in its own failed Alzheimer's drugs

Roche COO Daniel O'Day

Biogen ($BIIB) turned heads around the industry last month with early data in which its plaque-destroying Alzheimer's treatment had a significant effect on patients' cognition, bucking a vexing trend for such antibodies. Among those paying close attention was Roche ($RHHBY), which is now re-examining a pair of once-failed treatments.

The company has "renewed confidence" that targeting beta amyloid proteins, which accumulate in the brains of Alzheimer's patients, is a path to slowing the disease's neurodegenerative effects, Roche COO Daniel O'Day told analysts on the company's quarterly earnings call. And it's taking another look at gantenerumab and crenezumab, two amyloid-destroying antibodies, to see if there's a way forward.

Each candidate endured a high-profile setback last year. Gantenerumab failed in a Phase III trial on patients with presymptomatic Alzheimer's, a particularly frustrating result because investigators believed they might have finally found the ideal population for amyloid blockers. And crenezumab, partnered with AC Immune, missed its primary efficacy goal in a Phase II study that both companies described as encouraging, but Roche is yet to pull the trigger on a Phase III effort for the antibody.

But, thanks to Biogen, that could change. In a Phase Ib study on 166 patients, Biogen's aducanumab led to statistically significant reductions in beta amyloid compared with placebo after 54 weeks and, most important, demonstrated a dose-dependent, statistically significant effect on patients' cognition.

Those results, however early, throw a great deal of weight behind the beta amyloid hypothesis, O'Day told Reuters, and that's reason enough to revisit the potential of gantenerumab and crenezumab.

"We're not at a stage where we've made a final decision on those two programs, but we're encouraged because the data that was presented from Biogen showed a concordance between dose level, between plaque removal and between clinical effect," he said.

The company isn't making any specific commitments just yet, but promised an update on its Alzheimer's efforts later this year.

- here's the presentation (PDF)
- read the Reuters story