Lilly gets boost in Alzheimer's race

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Eli Lilly and Co. got a boost of confidence last week that its project to launch the first effective Alzheimer’s treatment is on the right track—though it still faces hugely long odds.

A study published July 11 in the journal Nature gave strong support to the theory that Alzheimer’s is caused by the buildup of plaques in the brain made up of a protein called beta amyloid.

Lilly’s experimental drug solanezumab binds to amyloid and removes it from the brain. The Indianapolis-based drugmaker hopes the reduction of amyloid levels stops or even reverses the progress of Alzheimer’s.

That's a common theory to explain Alzheimer's, but it's not the only one. In the 1990s, researchers noticed that the accumulation of another protein, called tau, tracked more closely with a patient's mental decline than did amyloid.

Alzheimer's disease slowly saps the brain’s memory and eventually its ability to make the body perform the most basic tasks. The World Health Organization estimates that 18 million people worldwide suffer from Alzheimer’s, with that number expected to hit 34 million by 2025.

Such a massive unmet need is why Wall Street analysts think the first effective Alzheimer’s treatment could garner as much as $10 billion in annual sales.

Racing Lilly to launch the first successful drug are New York-based Pfizer Inc., New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson and Ireland-based Elan Corp. They could announce clinical results of their drug bapineuzumab, which is also designed to reduce amyloid in the brain, as early as August but perhaps not until October.

Indianapolis-based Lilly is expected to release results from two Phase 3 trials of solanezumab this fall. A negative outcome could send Lilly’s already sluggish shares down another 10 percent, according to ISI Group analyst Mark Schoenebaum. But an unqualified success could spike Lilly shares 50 percent.

"It would be the single-biggest-day pharma stock move I'd ever seen," Schoenebaum told The Wall Street Journal. Schonebaum gives solanebzumab a 15-percent chance of success. Other Wall Street analysts give it a 1-in-10 shot.

Lilly shares have risen 2 percent since the Nature study was published, trading as high as $43.71 on Monday. The study showed that a rare gene mutation discovered in Icelanders protected their brains from the buildup of amyloid plaques—and from the onset of Alzheimer’s. The gene mutation even appeared to override another genetic mutation that is a strong risk factor for Alzheimer’s.

Richard Mohs, head of Lilly’s early clinical development in neurosciences, was quoted in The New York Times as saying he was “very encouraged by these study results.” Mohs added that developing drugs to combat amyloid is “a logical path for the development of effective therapies that may slow disease progression."

Still, one big challenge for Lilly and other companies developing drugs to combat amyloid is that the buildup of the plaques and the damage they cause appear to start two decades before any dementia sets in, according to a new study in The New England Journal of Medicine.

That means that the more than 2,000 patients in Lilly’s ongoing trials of solanezumab might be too far gone for a drug to help them now. The Nature study of Icelanders shows only that having a genetic protection against amyloid for one’s entire life spares a person from Alzheimer’s.

Lilly’s challenge is to show that 18 months or less of amyloid-reducing treatment can also make a difference.

Identifying patients earlier led Lilly to acquire and commercialize Amyvid, an imaging agent that helps make amyloid plaques visible in brain scans of living patients. Before, the plaques could be identified only during autopsies.


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. By Mr. Lee's own admission, he basically ran pro-bono ads on the billboard. Paying advertisers didn't want ads on a controversial, ugly billboard that turned off customers. At least one of Mr. Lee's free advertisers dropped out early because they found that Mr. Lee's advertising was having negative impact. So Mr. Lee is disingenous to say the city now owes him for lost revenue. Mr. Lee quickly realized his monstrosity had a dim future and is trying to get the city to bail him out. And that's why the billboard came down so quickly.

  2. Merchants Square is back. The small strip center to the south of 116th is 100% leased, McAlister’s is doing well in the outlot building. The former O’Charleys is leased but is going through permitting with the State and the town of Carmel. Mac Grill is closing all of their Indy locations (not just Merchants) and this will allow for a new restaurant concept to backfill both of their locations. As for the north side of 116th a new dinner movie theater and brewery is under construction to fill most of the vacancy left by Hobby Lobby and Old Navy.

  3. Yes it does have an ethics commission which enforce the law which prohibits 12 specific items. google it

  4. Thanks for reading and replying. If you want to see the differentiation for research, speaking and consulting, check out the spreadsheet I linked to at the bottom of the post; it is broken out exactly that way. I can only include so much detail in a blog post before it becomes something other than a blog post.

  5. 1. There is no allegation of corruption, Marty, to imply otherwise if false. 2. Is the "State Rule" a law? I suspect not. 3. Is Mr. Woodruff obligated via an employment agreement (contractual obligation) to not work with the engineering firm? 4. In many states a right to earn a living will trump non-competes and other contractual obligations, does Mr. Woodruff's personal right to earn a living trump any contractual obligations that might or might not be out there. 5. Lawyers in state government routinely go work for law firms they were formally working with in their regulatory actions. You can see a steady stream to firms like B&D from state government. It would be interesting for IBJ to do a review of current lawyers and find out how their past decisions affected the law firms clients. Since there is a buffer between regulated company and the regulator working for a law firm technically is not in violation of ethics but you have to wonder if decisions were made in favor of certain firms and quid pro quo jobs resulted. Start with the DOI in this review. Very interesting.