Genentech drug picked for pioneering $100M Alzheimer's trial

The NIH has agreed to help bankroll a pioneering $100 million study of Genentech's experimental Alzheimer's therapy crenezumab. Investigators will test the drug in a region of Colombia where a particular genetic mutation is known to trigger the early onset of Alzheimer's, with an eye to determining if they can stop the memory-wasting ailment before it starts.

The NIH has agreed to pay for $16 million of the study, with private donors putting up $15 million more and Genentech adding the rest--about $65 million--to bankroll the effort. The announcement is part of an ambitious effort announced Tuesday to find an effective treatment for the disease by 2025 in the hopes of thwarting a steadily growing epidemic of Alzheimer's as the baby boomer generation turns gray and old.

The news is a coup for Genentech, which had one of 25 therapies considered for the public/private study. Like a number of other therapies in the pipeline, crenezumab targets the toxic protein beta amyloid, which accumulates in the brain of Alzheimer's victims. But while amyloid remains a prime suspect in the disease, investigators have yet to determine whether eliminating or reducing the levels of toxic material is a safe and effective approach to treating the illness.

Earlier attempts to target beta amyloid have met with failure, if not outright disaster, as was the case with Eli Lilly's ($LLY) semagacestat. But in a common strategy, investigators have been testing the treatments in patients with advanced cases. In this instance, the drug will be studied in patients who have yet to see the disease develop to the point where it has already wreaked havoc on the brain. Investigators also believe that crenezumab may be less likely to cause tiny brain hemorrhages which can afflict patients. The drug is currently in mid-stage testing after completing positive early-stage groundwork.

"This will be the first test of an anti-amyloid treatment in a preclinical stage, where it has the best chance to have the most profound benefit," Dr. Eric Reiman, executive director of Banner Alzheimer's Institute, told reporters today. Banner is leading the study.

Two other drugs, bapineuzumab and solanezumab, are in late-stage studies that wrap this summer. Analysts have generally been skeptical of the outcomes, noting the deep uncertainties that surround the disease and past failures.

The news is also a boon to AC Immune, a Swiss company which partnered with Genentech on the program back in 2006.

- get the story from Reuters
- here's the article from The New York Times