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Health experts are hopeful several new drugs will be approved soon to treat Alzheimer’s disease. Phynart Studio/Getty Images
  • There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but experts are hopeful new treatments and diagnostic tools could be available soon.
  • They note there are three drugs currently awaiting approval from federal regulators.
  • In addition, liquid biopsies are being looked at as a potential tool in diagnosing the disease early.

At the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2022 that took place in San Diego last week, there was an equal amount of hope and concern.

“With record public and private research investment it’s an exciting time for Alzheimer’s and dementia research,” Heather M. Snyder, PhD, the Alzheimer’s Association vice president of medical and scientific relations, said in a press statement.

However, recent concerns over fraudulent images in a longstanding study of Alzheimer’s disease causes have brought more uncertainty to a community that is eager for some good news.

While officials told Healthline that the harm done by reports about the study is not as serious to the overall body of work in Alzheimer’s disease as the publication suggests, anxiety about the future of Alzheimer’s disease research remains real.

There is still no effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, which is a type of dementia that affects memory, cognition, and behavior. More than 6 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s disease with approximately half of the cases going undiagnosed.

There are several treatments currently in clinical trials, including one for lecanemab, a monoclonal antibody drug from Biogen and Eisai that has shown some promise.

Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted priority review status to the drug’s application. The decision on lecanemab is expected in January.

Meanwhile, the FDA has also agreed to an expedited review of Eli Lilly’s experimental Alzheimer’s disease medicine donanemab. A decision on that drug could be made by February.

A third drug, gantenerumab from Roche, is also awaiting results from a phase 3 study later this year, but Fierce Biotech reported last month that Roche Chief Executive Officer Severin Schwan considers gantenerumab “a high-risk project.”

Lecanemab, donanemab, and gantenerumab all focus on a protein called amyloid beta, which accumulates in sticky plaques in the brain. Targeting this protein has been the most promising approach to date, but several drugs have failed in trials.

“We don’t really know the causes of Alzheimer’s that are not familial in nature. We don’t have a good handle on that,” Dr. Edward Koo, an emeritus professor in the department of neurosciences at the University of California San Diego, told Healthline.

“That is the problem. We still do not know the pathogenic mechanism of Alzheimer’s beyond the many hypothesized pathways, so it is difficult to try to treat this,” Koo explained. “We don’t have good animal models like cancer.”

The fear is that what happened in the stroke community could also happen in the Alzheimer’s disease community, added Koo.

Billions of dollars were reportedly spent in the search for a treatment for strokes, but eventually most drug company interest had dried up.

“The pharmaceutical industry has all but given up on stroke research with hundreds of failed trials,” Koo said. “Could the same thing happen in Alzheimer’s research? That is the fear. But thankfully it has not happened yet.”

Deborah Kan is a journalist who spent five years as executive producer of video for the Wall Street Journal. When her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, she discovered that there was no single place to go, free of bias, to help her and her family understand the research.

So she founded Being Patient, an organization whose mission is to provide patients, caregivers, and carriers of the Alzheimer’s disease gene the tools they need to navigate the disease and elevate the patient’s voice.

Kan said there were two overriding takeaways for her from the recent San Diego conference.

“My takeaways are that we are all waiting for the next lecanemab results and that we are making a lot of headway in diagnostics,” she told Healthline.

Last week, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and former Estee Lauder chair Leonard Lauder announced that they are each donating another $11 million to the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation to speed up the development of diagnostic tests for Alzheimer’s disease.

The goal is to create new diagnostics similar to the blood tests known as liquid biopsies that are currently being used for early cancer detection.

A study released in April said that liquid biopsies could be a game-changer for Alzheimer’s disease detection, treatment as well as future research.

Liquid biopsies provide an earlier detection in cancer treatment and the same could happen with Alzheimer’s disease, experts say.

Early diagnosis is key to providing a greater therapeutic window for future therapies. Quanterix Corporation, for example, announced in October that its liquid biopsy test was granted breakthrough device designation by the FDA as a tool for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease.

Kevin Hrusovsky, the former chairman and chief executive officer for Quanterix Corporation, said in a press statement that the company is “deeply committed to leveraging our innovative platform to support advances in neurodegenerative research and the translation of breakthrough scientific discoveries into the clinic.”