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Two Failed Alzheimer’s Disease Clinical Trials

In February 2020 two drugs that were being tested for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) failed in clinical trials.1 Both drugs were being tested for use in a rare form of AD. This form is known as autosomal dominant AD.1 The drugs were being tested in patients who had autosomal dominant AD or who were at risk for autosomal dominant AD. These drugs weren’t successful in treating autosomal dominant AD. The drugs may still be able to treat other forms of AD. They are still being used in other research trials.1

Gantenerumab

Gantenerumab is a monoclonal antibody (MA) medication that is manufactured by Roche.1 This medication seeks out amyloid plaques in the brain of patients with AD. MAs are different than traditional medications.2 They are large molecules that are created in laboratories. MAs work with a person’s immune system. They attach to cells like amyloid plaques. A person’s immune system will then help destroy these cells.2

Gantenerumab was tested in a study of 194 autosomal dominant AD patients.3 These patients either had no symptoms or mild symptoms at the start of the study. Fifty-two of the patients received gantenerumab. The study lasted about 5 years.1 Patients were tested on how well they performed on a series of cognitive tests.

Patients who received gantenerumab did not have any significant decrease in cognitive decline. They were compared to patients who did not take gantenerumab.1 Doctors increased the dose of gantenerumab throughout the study. Increasing the dose did not have any effect on the outcome of the study.1

Solanezumab

Solanezumab is a MA medication that is manufactured by Eli Lilly.4 This medication seeks out amyloid plaques in the brains of AD patients. It works very similarly to gantenerumab. Solanezumab was tested in 90 autosomal dominant AD patients.4 Fifty of the patients received solanezumab. Patients had to stay on the study for at least 4 years. Thirty-six patients received solanezumab for the full 4 years.4 Patients were tested on how well they performed on a series of cognitive tests.

Patients who received solanezumab did not have any significant decrease in cognitive decline. They were compared to patients who did not take solanezumab.4 Doctors increased the dose of solanezumab that patients received throughout the study. Increasing the dose did not have any effect on the outcome of the study.4

Why are failed studies like these important?

It is very important that doctors publish failed studies. Doctors can use this information to create new studies. They may use the same drug in a different disease type. Doctors are using gantenerumab and solanezumab in studies of other types of AD.1,4 These studies are still in progress.

Failure is an important part of the scientific process.5 Researchers make theories and then test the theories. Researchers use information from failed studies to develop new studies and drugs.5 There are researchers all over the world developing new medications. There have been many studies based around AD. If studies fail it means that researchers are trying. This is important and exciting work!

It is important to remember that research takes time. It takes about 12 years for a drug to go from an idea to approval.6 It often takes more time than that! It costs about 2.6 billion dollars for that research.6 It is very disappointing for everyone when a drug fails to treat a disease. It is important to remember that every failure brings us one step closer to finding a successful treatment.6

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