Could alpha secretase offer a better approach to fighting Alzheimer's?

After the recent round of late-stage failures for new Alzheimer's drugs, a considerable amount of the clinical focus for new therapies has shifted to beta secretase, a cleaving enzyme that plays a role in creating deposits of amyloid beta in the brain. But investigators at Mainz University say they've been gathering evidence to suggest that the "competitor" enzyme alpha secretase could play a dual role in fighting the disease.

It's not a new theory. Over the years a few different investigators have floated the idea that alpha secretase could offer a promising avenue of research. In the new study, scientists said that a known psoriasis drug was able to stimulate the alpha secretase ADAM10, which they say both prevents the synthesis of toxic amyloid beta as well as boosts the growth factor APPs-alpha, which protects nerve cells damaged by the peptides and could help protect cognition and memory.

They've tested this approach in patients, detecting an increased level of APPs-alpha in spinal fluid--a key gauge for Alzheimer's researchers. And they point to previous studies that indicate that stimulating ADAM10 can promote learning and memory in animal models.

The results of the related study have recently been published in the journal Neurology.

The scientists at the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy of the University Medical Center of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz don't say which approved psoriasis drug was used in their study. But they say they need to do some longer studies now to see if this new approach could work in people.

Millions of people suffer from Alzheimer's, a memory-robbing disease that is growing in epidemic proportions as the population ages. Merck ($MRK) is among the leaders in the clinic now with a beta secretase approach, while Biogen Idec ($BIIB) and Eli Lilly ($LLY) with AstraZeneca ($AZN) come up from behind. Lilly recently licensed in AstraZeneca's beta secretase drug after its own proved toxic in the clinic. And with billions of revenue likely to flow to any company that can develop an effective drug for the disease, no stone is being left unturned in the search.

- here's the release
- get the research abstract