Here’s Why Eli Lilly Can’t Forget Alzheimer’s Treatments

Washington University at St. Louis announced on Wednesday that its Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer’s Network Trials Unit will be conducting clinical trials of experimental Alzheimer’s treatments developed by Roche (RHHBY.PK) and Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY).

Up until this point, Alzheimer’s research has aimed at slowing the disease’s progression; this study, however, will test the possibility of preventing the disease in patients that carry a mutated gene that often causes Alzheimer’s symptoms. Both Roche and Lilly have agreed to provide grants to make the research possible.

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The study, expected to begin early next year, will test both Roche’s gantenerumab and Lilly’s solanezumab on 160 patients, some of which are as young as 30 years-old.

Bapineuzumab, a joint effort between Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), will not be part of the trial because the drug has not be shown to improve mental cognition in patients with mild or moderate symptoms.

If either or both of these drugs prove to be successful in the trial, their sale could generate billions of dollars in annual revenue. Alzheimer’s is a disease that affects 5 million people in the United States, a number that is expected to reach 16 million by 2050; if a cure was developed, the market for the drug would be huge.

“Trying to prevent Alzheimer’s symptoms from ever occurring is a new strategy,” said principal investigator John C. Morris, MD, in a university press release.

Lilly initially announced in August that two late-stage trials of solanezumab, a treatment which reduces the buildup of the toxic beta amyloid plaque found in Alzheimer’s patients, failed to halt the disease’s progression. However, on Monday, the pharmaceutical company said that a secondary analysis of the pooled trial results revealed 34 percent less mental decline in mild Alzheimer’s patients compared to those patients on a placebo.

Following this news, shares of Eli Lilly gained more than 7 percent, but by midday Wednesday, the stock was down 2.6 percent.

Market analysis publication, Seeking Alpha, said that while the new results were positive, they were hardly enough to warrant approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, hence the importance of Washington University’s trial. In the opinion of analysts, Lilly needs to develop a successful new drug to offset the recent sales drop due to exclusivity losses.

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