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Calling off the search

19 September 2012

Calling off the search

Leading pharmaceutical companies are downgrading the search for new treatments for Alzheimer’s.  This comes after a series of failures of drug trials aiming to find this new treatment.

A trial in the US ended badly when the drug failed to show any benefits while an Irish drug-maker also failed to perform.  Eli Lilly, a US group, trailed a new drug which disappointed researchers, the second let down for the company in two years.

These disappointments have damaged the confidence of drug makers, making them less likely to trial new drugs.  This is not helped by the recession, as cutbacks have meant a lack of funding for people who do want to go ahead with drug trials and other experiments, which would have benefits for this condition.

Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said, “Neuroscience is a very challenging area. All companies are shedding jobs but neuroscience has had the highest attrition rate.  AstraZeneca had a very large neuroscience group with some 300 scientists. It is reducing that to a team of 40, who will act as a virtual team – not doing their own research but monitoring developments and forging links with other companies.”

There have been concerns that the current drugs being tested could run out, effectively setting back the progress of a new drug years.  Eric said, “That has always got to be a risk. My sense is not that companies want to move away [from Alzheimer’s research] but that their shareholders are getting restive. That’s capitalism – there is nothing we can do about that. But there is a huge public need.”

Craig Ritchie, a leading Alzheimer’s researcher at Imperial College, said, “The companies are streamlining their neuroscience departments and one can understand why. But it is hugely disappointing because there is massive unmet need.  There is a shift to symptomatic treatments instead of disease-modifying ones. There is a lot less energy in the system than there used to be. We need a success story – a catalyst – to make people feel there is something to work towards.”