Hopes for coming up with an effective drug treatment for Alzheimer's disease took another hit last week when two once-promising drugs failed to improve patient cognition during pivotal Phase 3 clinical trials.
With millions of baby boomers expected to suffer severe cognitive decline over the next few decades, the drug industry's repeated failure to come up with a successful intervention is putting renewed pressure on researchers to identify and develop preventive measures that aging adults can take to forestall the debilitating descent into dementia.
“We should begin to direct more efforts toward risk factors that may be modifiable,” said Dr. Eric Larson, vice president of research for Group Health Research Institute in Seattle. He's been outspoken about the need to refocus attention from drugs to things such as decreasing diabetes and stroke rates. “My personal belief is that it will not be possible to find a single pill. It's going to be a combination of things we do to delay chronic diseases that will allow people to live out their lives fully before being struck by conditions like Alzheimer's.”
Healthcare providers, government payers and families have a huge stake in the pace and success of Alzheimer's research. Failure to come up with successful treatments or preventive measures will place growing financial pressure on those tasked with caring for the increasing numbers of mentally challenged older Americans, most of whom won't have long-term care insurance.
For them, there was no good news last week. Two beta amyloid inhibitors, solanezumab and bapineuzumab, did not achieve improved cognition in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's, according to studies in the New England Journal of Medicine. The beta amyloid protein is a main component of plaque that builds up on the brain cells of Alzheimer's patients.
While an accompanying editorial called for continuing research into beta amyloid inhibitors, other researchers argued that research-and-development activities are focusing too much on drugs and overlooking promising findings in areas where people have more control.