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Firms abandon Alzheimer's drug

Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson are ending development of an intravenous formulation of a drug to treat Alzheimer's disease after the treatment failed in two late-stage clinical trials.

The companies hoped bapineuzumab intravenous would slow the decline in physical and mental function for patients with Alzheimer's. However the drug did not work better than a placebo in two late-stage trials in patients who had mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease.

J&J said it is not discontinuing development of the compound and noted it has ongoing studies including a mid-stage neuroimaging study with bapineuzumab delivered subcutaneously.

Johnson & Johnson made a big bet on bapineuzumab in 2009, agreeing to invest up to 1.5 billion US dollars (about £1 billion) initially.

The drug is designed to prevent the build-up of plaque in the brain. Current treatments for Alzheimer's can only temporarily ease symptoms of the disease, which include increasing memory loss, confusion, wandering and aggression.

The two companies said on July 23 that the drug had failed in a different trial. All other studies are now being discontinued, and Johnson & Johnson, based in New Brunswick, New Jersey, said it will take a charge of 300 million to 400 million dollars (£192 million to £256 million) in the third quarter.

Dublin-based Elan, which licensed the drug to Johnson & Johnson in 2009, said it will take a 117.3 million dollar (£75 million) charge of its own. Shares of Elan lost 9.4%, or 1.06 dollars, to 10.19 dollars in after-hours trading. Shares of New York-based Pfizer lost 2.9%, or 71 cents, to 23.55 dollars. Johnson & Johnson stock edged down by 67 cents to 68.17 dollars.

In the latest trial, bapineuzumab was tested on about 1,300 patients who lacked a gene associated with a greater risk of Alzheimer's. Last month the companies said the drug also did not work on patients who do have that gene. Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson were running two other late-stage trials as part of a large testing programme for the drug.

Worldwide, about 35 million people already have dementia, of which Alzheimer's is the most common type. In the US, about five million have Alzheimer's.

Finding a drug that could at least slow the disease has become a sort of Holy Grail in the pharmaceutical industry. A successful medicine would be guaranteed to generate billions in annual sales, given the world's ageing population.


From Belfast Telegraph