Another experimental Alzheimer’s drug fails as Eli Lilly, Astra halt tests

Eli Lilly and Co. and AstraZeneca Plc have ended two late-stage trials of an experimental drug for Alzheimer’s disease after the treatment failed to show any signs of working, adding to a litany of disappointments for the memory-robbing illness.

An independent data-monitoring committee found that the medicine, lanabecestat, was unlikely to meet the goals of the studies, one for early Alzheimer’s and the other for mild dementia related to the disease, the companies said Tuesday. There were no safety concerns, they said.

Like several others that failed, such as Merck & Co.’s verubecestat, the drug targeted a protein called amyloid, thought to be a cause of the disease. The class of medicines known as BACE inhibitors operate before the amyloid has formed into deposits, called plaques. Many researchers now believe that administering drugs after amyloid has built up in the brain may come too late to affect Alzheimer’s progress.

“The complexity of Alzheimer’s disease poses one of the most difficult medical challenges of our time, and we are deeply disappointed for the millions suffering from this devastating disease,” Daniel Skovronsky, president of Lilly Research Labs, said in written statement.

More than 190 failures

The decision to end the trials won’t have a material financial impact on AstraZeneca, and its guidance for this year remains unchanged, the Cambridge, England-based company said in a separate statement.

Indianapolis-based Lilly said it doesn’t anticipate significant costs associated with the end of the studies and reaffirmed its outlook for 2018 and the remainder of the decade.

By one count, more than 190 Alzheimer drugs have failed in trials. Spending on care for people alive in the U.S. right now who will develop the affliction is projected to cost $47 trillion over the course of their lives, according to a report in March from the Alzheimer’s Association. The U.S. is projected to spend $277 billion on Alzheimer’s or other dementia care in 2018 alone, with an aging cohort of baby boomers pushing that number to $1.1 trillion by 2050.

Despite billions of dollars spent by the drug industry searching for a treatment, there are no medicines that slow the progress of Alzheimer’s. The failures have left analysts pessimistic about many of the experimental medicines that companies are working on. Roger Franklin of Liberum Capital Ltd. said he, like most analysts, had forecast no revenue from lanabecestat for AstraZeneca.

“This is absolutely no surprise to us given failures by others with this so-called BACE inhibitor mechanism and the track record of late-stage Alzheimer’s studies more generally,” he wrote in a report Tuesday.

A new approach centers on targeting the protein tau, another degenerative process identified in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients. Tau protein forms into tangles, which start in the areas of the brain important for memory.

Lilly, Merck, AbbVie Inc., Biogen Inc. and Roche Holding AG are among the drugmakers pursuing that route.

Lilly share were down 22 cents Tuesday afternoon, to $85.64 each.

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