Alzheimer's drug test aim is prevention
Published: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 4:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 4:01 a.m.
In a clinical trial that could lead to treatments that prevent Alzheimer's disease, people who are genetically guaranteed to suffer from the disease years from now -- but who do not yet have any symptoms -- will be given a drug intended to stop them from developing it, federal officials announced Tuesday.
Experts say the study will be one of only a few ever conducted to test prevention treatments for any genetically predestined disease. In Alzheimer's research, the trial is unprecedented, "the first to focus on people who are cognitively normal but at very high risk for Alzheimer's disease," said Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.
Most participants will be drawn from an extended family of 5,000 people who live in or near Medellin, Colombia. The family is believed to have more members who suffer from Alzheimer's than any other in the world. Those who possess a specific genetic mutation begin showing cognitive impairment around age 45, and full-blown dementia around age 51. The 300 family members who participate in the initial phase of the trial will be years away from developing symptoms. Some will be as young as 30.
The $100 million study will run for five years, but results on sophisticated tests may indicate in as little as two years whether the drug is helping to delay memory decline or brain changes, said Dr. Eric M. Reiman, executive director of the Banner Alzheimer's Institute in Phoenix, and a lead researcher on the study.
About 5.4 million Americans currently have Alzheimer's disease, and the numbers are expected to swell as the baby boom generation ages.
Reiman and his team are already planning a similar drug trial for people at risk for conventional Alzheimer's in the United States.
The Colombia drug trial will be financed with $16 million from the National Institutes of Health, about $15 million from private donors through the Banner Institute and $65 million from Genentech, the drug's U.S. manufacturer.
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