Will Brain-Shuttle Technology Deliver for Alzheimer’s in 2014?
Looking back over 2013 it seems clear that Alzheimer’s research has fallen into something of a pattern where small and seemingly encouraging moments of insight are offset by the reality that dozens of Alzheimer’s studies have failed. In fact over the past decade or so over 100 experimental drugs have failed to make any significant inroads. Failure is both disappointing and expensive but with it comes new insights and a change in approach. So are we any further forward, and does 2014 hold up any more promise?
There is a pressing need for answers about Alzheimer’s and like most pressing needs it is simple economics that starts to press buttons. There are two sides to the economic coin. One side tells us that Alzheimer’s is already affecting 44 million people worldwide. As the global population increases and we live longer the number of people with Alzheimer’s is, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International, set to triple by 2050. Apart from the associated misery the economic costs of supporting this disease burden will be astronomical. The other face of the coin is the potential dividends to be had if a truly effective drug can be found. Some industry analysts suggest an annual $10 billion market.
It is of course the major pharmaceutical companies like Roche, Merck & Co and Eli Lilly, who invest in the research and which they later hope will bring financial dividends. Roche, for example claims it has found a way for complex antibody drugs to penetrate the brain. The so-called brain shuttle technology allows neurological substances to cross the blood-brain barrier, previously regarded as a major obstacle due to its function, which blocks the entry of large antibody molecules.
Roche have reported encouraging results, saying that in trials the approach leads to increased antibody levels in the brain and a reduction in amyloid plaque, a common feature of Alzheimer’s.
Will we see the benefits in 2014? It’s doubtful. Trials are underway with results expected sometime in 2016. Still, the fact that Roche is applying its new technology with diseases such as Huntingdon’s and Parkinson’s disease is promising.
Meanwhile we wait. Our concerns over developing Alzheimer’s are perfectly justified but we mustn’t read too much into things that are perfectly normal. Some doctors are reporting an increase in visits from people worried about misplacing keys, having trouble remembering why they have gone upstairs or into a different room, or worrying that their memory isn’t up to scratch. Alzheimer’s doesn’t spring on us. It’s a gradual process that often involves a lack of any awareness of memory problems, repeated mistakes and forgetting entire events or conversations.