AstraZeneca Seeks Alzheimer’s Answer

Dr. Lanny Edelsohn of Christiana Care Neurology Specialists |

Ask anyone who’s lost anyone they have loved to Alzheimer’s disease.

They will tell you unequivocally the illness that unforgivingly erases the minds of its sufferers, leaves behind unforgettable, heartbreaking memories with loved ones.

With Alzheimer’s disease, the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., there is no cure, no prevention – and no doubt the 18 million sufferers worldwide, will double by 2025, according to the World Health Organization.

In the U.S., 5.4 million people battle the disease. It has a rapidly rising mortality rate among an aging Baby Boomer generation. Approximately 5.2 million patients are age 65 or older and by 2050, as many as 16 million will be diagnosed, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

As if the numbers are staggering enough, an estimated 800,000 sufferers, or one in seven, live alone.

Soaring prevalence rates, coupled with an unmet patient need for effective and innovative treatments, has prompted AstraZeneca to bolster its neuroscience portfolio, taking a two-fold opportunity to potentially save lives and offset substantial revenue losses from drug patent expirations.

“Diseases of the central nervous system have one of the heaviest socioeconomic burdens on our society and with an ever-aging population this burden has the potential to become catastrophic,” said AstraZeneca’s Andrea Winchell, senior communications manager. “Unfortunately, diseases of the central nervous system are also amongst the most complex for the industry to model, they are poorly understood and difficult to treat.”

Strategic partnerships and acquisitions have become a necessary trend in the world of big pharmas and in the case of neuroscience, AstraZeneca has held true to its business plan.

Not too different from the approach the firm has taken with diabetes – a $465 billion market it is aggressively pursuing in partnership with Bristol-Myers Squibb – AstraZeneca is buying experimental treatments for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s from Link Medicine Corp. of Massachusetts.

The firm has several ongoing studies for Alzheimer’s disease, pain and depression, Winchell said.

“We need new ideas and new ways of working across both public and private sectors if we are to have a significant impact on these devastating diseases in a time-scale that will make a difference,” Winchell said. “Aspects of our internal assets and existing partnerships, coupled with an opportunity to tap cutting-edge science that is happening outside of our walls, fuels our commitment to neuroscience at a time when many of our peers have exited.”

Dr. David A. Simpson, director of geriatrics, Christiana Care Health System |

Paired with stringent cost reduction, the moves extend the firm’s efforts to sustain the company’s health and reinvigorate through agreements with small drug firms and acquisitions what analysts have said is a weak product development pipeline.

In March, the drugmaker lost patent protection for its $5.8 billion schizophrenia drug Seroquel IR, accounting for 80 percent of a 29 percent drop in U.S. revenue for second quarter.

The pharmaceutical giant, with its offices for the Americas in Fairfax, is now upping the ante on its offerings for Alzheimer’s and it’s not hard to understand why.

In 2012, the association estimates costs to reach $200 billion, including $140 billion in Medicare and Medicaid costs.

“Unless something is done, the costs of Alzheimer’s in 2050 are estimated to total $1.1 trillion (in today’s dollars),” the association detailed on its website, noting costs to Medicare and Medicaid will increase nearly 500 percent.

AstraZeneca has its eye fixed on discovering ways to diagnose the disease before it progresses into dementia and developing drugs that could reverse or stop the progression – a script neurologists would love to write and a ride to the pharmacy no one would mind taking.

“Early detection of people at the highest risk for Alzheimer’s and those who have the earlier forms of the disease will help us identify the right people for risk reduction and prevention trials, and move the field further in the direction of early detection and treatment,” William Thies, chief medical and science officer for the association said in a press statement on the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in late July. “It is now generally accepted that Alzheimer’s begins years, perhaps even decades before symptoms are noticeable.”

The greatest need perhaps for sufferers is a drug that stops progression right in its tracks.

“If any drug company comes up with any kind of treatment, that would be a boon to society and to the company that develops it,” said Dr. Lanny Edelsohn, a neurologist, from Christiana Care Neurology Specialists. “We’ve made major progress with Parkinson’s disease but our progress with Alzheimer’s has been much slower.”

Fellow Christiana Care Health System Dr. David Simpson, director of geriatrics, described Alzheimer’s as a devastating psychological and financial burden for patients and their families.

Simpson pointed to drugs that slow the progression and in some cases are effective, and in others, are not.

“What’s missing obviously is that there is not a cure and treatments don’t work on everyone,” Simpson said. “Anybody working toward a cure … we would be greatly appreciative.”
AstraZeneca seeks Alzheimer’s answer | The News Journal |

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