Many pharmaceutical companies have failed to create therapies to treat Alzheimer’s disease by targeting a brain compound called beta amyloid. After spending hundreds of millions of dollars over a few years on clinical trials for safety and efficacy, companies are discontinuing effort, not due to safety concerns but a lack of efficacy. In total, approximately 200 failed attempts to develop a treatment for Alzheimer’s have been recorded.
A protein in the brain, beta amyloid collects into clumps of plaque in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Traditionally, drug manufacturers have attempted to clear beta amyloid with treatments. However, it is unclear if the clumped beta amyloid is a cause of Alzheimer’s or an end result of damage already caused by the disease. Companies such as Merck, Eli Lilly and Pfizer have all discontinued large-scale trials focusing on beta amyloid, and while much hope was placed on recent efforts by companies such as Biogen, those endeavors have also failed. Biogen’s discontinuation is the second failure this year, following Roche’s conclusion in January that its own two large studies were likely to fail.
According to researchers, it is becoming harder to justify why beta amyloid treatments are not effective. They believe that because the medical community is so focused on beta amyloid, it is negatively affecting the consideration of other potential treatments and research. Although some Alzheimer’s patients have genetic mutations related to beta amyloid production, a direct causal relationship between the two has yet to be established.