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October 9, 2012

Alzheimer drug shows some promise in mild disease

BOSTON — Combined results from two studies of an experimental Alzheimer’s drug suggest it might modestly slow mental decline, especially in patients with mild disease.

Taken separately, the studies on the drug — Eli Lilly & Co.’s solanezumab — missed their main goals of significantly slowing the mind-robbing disease or improving activities of daily living. But pooled results found 34 percent less mental decline in mild Alzheimer’s patients compared to those on a fake treatment for 18 months.

Doctors called the results encouraging although probably not good enough to win approval of the drug now, without another study. Investors were more enthused, driving Lilly’s stock up about 5 percent Monday and about 19 percent since August.

Detailed results were revealed for the first time Monday at an American Neurological Association conference in Boston.

“It’s certainly not the home run we all wanted, but we’re very encouraged by these results,” said Maria Carillo, chief science officer for the Alzheimer’s Association.

Dr. Stephen Salloway, an Alzheimer’s expert at Brown University, agreed.

“It’s exciting to see that there may be clinical benefit,” he said, but it is modest and may not make a difference in how well patients live — what matters most to them and their families.

About 35 million people worldwide have dementia, and Alzheimer’s is the most common type. In the U.S., about five million have Alzheimer’s. Current medicines such as Aricept and Namenda just temporarily ease symptoms. There is no known cure.

Solanezumab is one of three drugs in late-stage testing that seek to alter the course of the disease. Results on one drug were disappointing, and results of the other won’t be ready until early next year.

Solanezumab aims to bind to and help clear the sticky deposits that clog patients’ brains. The two studies each had about 1,000 patients, about two-thirds with mild disease and one-third with moderately severe Alzheimer’s, in 16 countries. Their average age was 75.

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