Hopes Dashed for Alzheimer's Drug

As researchers give up hope on one drug, doctors insist all is not lost.

ByABC News
July 2, 2008, 8:16 AM

July 2, 2008— -- Many Alzheimer's researchers deny that the failure of a promising remedy for the degenerative disease requires a return to the drawing board, saying the setback is not a death knell for drugs designed to target a protein in the brain considered the trigger for the disease.

Still, doctors are disappointed that the treatment fell short of expectations -- especially when its makers spent $60 million on it during the past year alone.

On June 30, Myriad Genetics Inc. announced that its drug Flurizan didn't improve cognitive function or performance of daily activities for people who have Alzheimer's disease. A recent clinical trial tested the drug for 18 months in patients with a mild form of the condition.

"We are disappointed that Flurizan failed to achieve significance in this study, and we will now discontinue development of this compound," Myriad's CEO Peter Meldrum said in a statement.

Flurizan targeted one type of protein in the brain called beta amyloid. Researchers believe that the protein forms clumps that clog the connections between brain cells, which may contribute to the symptoms of Alzheimer's, which include progressive memory loss.

It was hoped that Flurizan would decrease the production of beta amyloid and slow the progression of the disease.

However, many scientists say they were not surprised by the findings. In fact, they say they even expected the outcome after seeing the underwhelming results of an earlier trial of the drug.

"The bottom line is that Flurizan was a nonstarter from the very beginning," says Rudy Tanzi, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School in Boston. Tanzi is also the co-founder and shareholder of two companies that develop Alzheimer's treatments.

When results released in 2006 did not show an overall positive effect of Flurizan on brain function, Myriad researchers narrowed the patient population to target a small subgroup of people who benefited from the drug. They used this population -- patients who had mild Alzheimer's disease and took a high dose of the drug -- in the most recent trial.