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Eli Lilly Drug Failure Causes Concern for Alzheimer’s Research

-Dr.Kathy Johnson, PhD, CMC

As reported in The New York Times, the drug being tested by Eli Lilly for Alzheimer’s has been put on hold. The drug was found not to work, but that was not the real reason for its failure. Researchers found that the drug made the patients’ symptoms of memory loss worsen and their ability to care for themselves decrease.

The findings from this study put into question the hypothesis that researchers have been following for why Alzheimer’s begins. The hypothesis deals with the protein beta amyloid, which accumulates in the brain and can cause this disease. The hypothesis stated that if these proteins were reduced, the disease may be slowed, stopped or prevented. The drug that Eli Lilly was testing did in fact lower levels of the protein beta amyloid. However, the result was not what they expected.

Researchers are now saying that the Lilly result shows that their hypotheses are too simplistic. Other recent studies have found that PET scans of the brain and tests of cerebrospinal fluid can detect people who are at risk for the disease. However, those tests are now only a benefit to companies that are testing new therapies.  No good comes from diagnosing people early if there is nothing they can do to prevent what is inevitable.
Some researchers are still hopeful and will continue to follow the amyloid hypothesis, however, companies are trying out new approaches. As one researcher said, “Failures certainly don’t build energy and enthusiasm. The market is still there, but failures do take their toll.”

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