Lilly partners with AstraZeneca on another Alzheimer’s treatment

Eli Lilly and Co. isn’t letting one setback prevent it from pursuing a treatment for Alzheimer's disease.

The Indianapolis-based company, which last month struck out in a late-stage clinical trial for a potential Alzheimer's drug called solanezumab, announced Friday a collaboration with AstraZeneca to develop another possible treatment for the mind-robbing disease.

Lilly said it will make an upfront $30 million payment to AstraZeneca and help the London-based drugmaker develop a  potential treatment known as MEDI1814, which is being tested on humans in first-stage trials.

Like solanezumab, MEDI1814 is designed to prevent a protein called beta amyloid from forming plaques in the brain, which is believed to play a major role in Alzheimer's.

Solanezumab, however, failed to slow the progression of the neurodegenerative disease, after years of testing and development. Patients treated with the drug didn’t show a meaningful slowing of cognitive decline compared to those who got a placebo.

Lilly last week announced it would lay off sales representatives in the first quarter because of the failure of solanezumab. Several sources inside the company predicted the number of layoffs would be in the hundreds.

AstraZeneca and Lilly have an existing partnership to work on another potential Alzheimer's drug, AZD3293, which is in a different class of drugs known as BACE inhibitors that try to block beta amyloid production another way. That drug is already in third-stage trials.

"At Lilly, we recognize the significant burden Alzheimer's disease places on patients, caregivers and our society, and we remain committed to finding ways to change the course of the disease," said Jan Lundberg, president of Lilly Research Laboratories. "We are pleased to be expanding our alliance with AstraZeneca to further build our pipeline of potential medicines and diagnostic agents. AstraZeneca brings capabilities and expertise and, most importantly, shares our passion to bring new medicines to patients suffering from this debilitating illness."

MEDI1814 was originally developed by AstraZeneca, but the cash-strapped company needs Lilly’s help and money to bring it to market. AstraZeneca is in cost-cutting mode and announced Friday that it plans to trim about 700 sales and non-sales jobs and in the United States.

Lilly shares were up 1.2 percent Friday morning, to $68 each. AstraZeneca shares rose 3.8 percent, $27.26 each.

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