Dozens of drugs aimed at treating Alzheimer’s disease are expected to reach the last phase of clinical testing this year, raising hopes one or more could be on the market within the next five years.
A new analysis by ResearchersAgainstAlzheimer's (RA2), found 27 drugs in phase III clinical trials that could potentially hit the shelves within the next five years.
Another eight drugs, currently in phase II clinical trials, could also come to market as early as 2019. The analysis was presented today at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference.
David Morgan, PhD, a professor of molecular pharmacology and physiology at the University of South Florida and founding member of ResearchersAgainstAlzheimer’s, said the results were promising.
“It is a higher number than we’ve had in the past,” Morgan said of the drugs in the phase III stage of clinical trials. “It’s continuing to creep up.”
Despite an incredible amount of time and money spent looking for Alzheimer’s disease treatments in recent years, there hasn’t been an FDA-approved novel drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease hit the market since 2003, according to ResearchersAgainstAlzheimer's.
Alzheimer’s disease is ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
Currently there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and just five drugs have been approved to help with treating symptoms of the disease.
Morgan pointed out that one exciting aspect of analysis results is that multiple drugs targeting different aspects of the disease may come to market within a few years.
“In the past most of the drugs have focused on [beta-amyloid], which we think is important, but not the only factor,” Morgan said.
He said that in the past, most of the drugs focused on targeting beta-amyloids, which are protein fragments that can build up in spaces between nerve cells resulting in plaques. The buildup of these plaques, along with “tangles” of another protein called tau, are considered to be the likely causes of nerve cell death, resulting in the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
James Hendrix, PhD, the director of medical and scientific research at the Alzheimer’s Association, was hesitant in celebrating the possible treatments because many potential drugs have appeared to be promising in early trials only to be found ineffective in later trials.
“The 5 million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease need new treatment options. That is something that clearly makes us anxious about the future,” Hendrix said.
Hendrix said he’s excited to see that a number of drugs are targeting symptoms of Alzheimer’s, not just the underlying cause.
“While we’re excited about modifying the disease and changing trajectory ... we still need drugs that treat people who already have Alzheimer’s,” Hendrix said.
These potential therapies include drugs that target agitation and sleep disorders, which are common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
“That is one area that gives me some hope that there may be additional drug therapies that can provide some benefit,” said Hendrix.
Not just medication
Both Morgan and Hendrix have pointed out that as the medical community learns more about Alzheimer’s disease, doctors may start to treat the condition more like heart disease, in that they will also recommend lifestyle changes.
Hendrix said doctors already know that risk factors for the disease include smoking, midlife depression, and head injury. In the future, doctors may start looking for early risk factors associated with the disease, and lifestyle changes may reduce this risk, even if the patient isn’t showing clinical signs of the dementia.
“We know things like regular exercise seem to help, and a diet like the MIND diet or Mediterranean diet seem to help risk,” Hendrix explained.
Hendrix said he remains hopeful that one or more of the drugs will be able to help treat the underlying causes of the disease by attacking the tangles or plaque. However, he thinks this is a problem that needs to be tackled on all sides by the medical community.
“While we want better drugs … we don't think that’s the full story,” he said. “We're not going to sit around and wait for that, we're looking for all avenues.”