Tau theory comes center stage in Alzheimer's R&D as amyloid advocates regroup

Alzheimer's research has been dominated for years by the amyloid beta hypothesis: Toxic loads of the protein build up in the brain, blighting its ability to retain memories. Cut amyloid levels, say advocates, and you can delay or prevent the disease. 

But as The Wall Street Journal notes in a profile of TauRx founder Claude Wischik, a parallel theory on tau has been gaining ground as late-stage amyloid beta programs from Eli Lilly ($LLY), J&J ($JNJ) and Pfizer ($PFE) have failed. The knotty tangles of the tau protein in the patient could be the main cause of the ailment, say supporters. And TauRx attracted headlines around the world when it announced recently that it was launching an ambitious late-stage program to put their drug to the test. 

For Wischik, the whole amyloid beta theory was a sad example of scientific orthodoxy. "Science is politics," Wischik tells the Journal. "And the politics of amyloid won." 

The TauRX founder's bitterness, though, could be obscuring one of the biggest new trends in Alzheimer's R&D. All investigators on the amyloid beta side of the scientific argument are moving to treat the disease while it's still in its earliest stages, operating on the new-found belief that established cases are too far along to treat. That was the one ray of hope that came out of Eli Lilly's solanezumab study. And in an interview with FierceBiotech last week, J&J neuroscience chief Husseini Manji underscored that argument. 

The focus at J&J and in other companies, he says, is shifting to "intervene before the damage is done, identify people much earlier." Alzheimer's, he adds, remains a major focus at J&J, despite the late-stage failure of IV bapineuzumab.

Alzheimer's, while still a mystery, could be triggered by both proteins. Roche ($RHHBY), which has a big amyloid beta program underway with AC Immune, recently went back to in-license AC's tau program. Like cancer, Alzheimer's is likely to offer multiple pathways. This is one argument where both sides of a scientific argument could ultimately be proved right.

- here's the article from The Wall Street Journal

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