Alzheimer’s drug trial slows mental decline in early study

An experimental drug from Biogen Idec Inc. became the first Alzheimer’s treatment to significantly slow cognitive decline and reduce what is believed to be brain-destroying plaque in patients with early and mild forms of the disease, according to a small study likely to reignite hopes of a treatment. Alzheimer’s affects 15 million people worldwide, a number that is expected to grow to 75 million by 2030 without effective treatments, likely costing billions of dollars a year. Any effective treatment is likely to become one of the world’s most lucrative drugs, but the Biogen drug faces years of testing and would not reach the market much before 2020, even if all goes well, analysts said.

It’s a bigger treatment effect than we had hoped for.

Alfred Sandrock, Biogen’s chief medical officer

Biogen is entering a field littered with expensive failures from such drugmakers as Pfizer Inc. and Eli Lilly and Co. Lilly and Roche Holding AG are both conducting trials on drugs that work the same way as Biogen’s, by blocking beta amyloid, a protein that forms toxic brain plaques that are theoretically an underlying cause of the degenerative brain disease. It marks the first time an experimental drug demonstrated a statistically significant reduction in amyloid plaque as well as a slowing of clinical impairment in patients with mild disease, said Sandrock.