An experimental Alzheimerâs drug from
& Co. helped patients in a small trial, the company said Monday, renewing hopes that researchers are closing in on therapies that can fight the disease.
The drug slowed the decline in memory and ability to perform activities of daily living by 32% after 18 months among people who received the therapy compared with those who got a placebo, Lilly said.
Lillyâs drug, named donanemab, met the primary goal of the study, according to the companyâa milestone one experimental Alzheimerâs drug after another has failed to reach.
âItâs a big moment for Alzheimerâs patients. Thereâs hope again,â said
Lillyâs chief scientific officer.
Lilly shares rose more than 10% in early trading Monday on the New York Stock Exchange. Lilly gave only the highlights of the study results, saying details would follow at a medical meeting and in an article in a peer-reviewed journal.
In its trial, donanemab didnât stop Alzheimerâs, and the number of subjectsâ272 people with the disease still at the mild stageâwas relatively small. Yet if the findings hold up, it would suggest researchers have found a medicine that can at least slow Alzheimerâs, a progressive disease that steals memories and thinking skills and eventually the ability to do basic tasks. Lilly has begun enrolling volunteers in a 500-subject study seeking to confirm the findings.
A series of research setbacks has prompted many drugmakers to give up.
Most recently a panel of experts advising the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said study data didnât support the effectiveness of an experimental treatment from
The agency is weighing whether to approve the therapy, called aducanumab.
Aducanumab and donanemab belong to the same class of antibody drugs that have been faltering in testing. Researchers hoped these drugs would stymie Alzheimerâs by targeting a hallmark of the disease: the sticky deposits, or plaques, of a protein called amyloid that accumulate in the brains of patients.
Unlike anti-amyloid cousins, donanemab was designed to clear the plaques, not just stop their buildup, Dr. Skovronsky said. Researchers also gave a much higher dose of donanemab than researchers had given of earlier anti-amyloid drugs.
Dr. Skovronsky said the goal was to get as much drug as possible through the blood-brain barrier that protects the brain and so hit the amyloid plaques hard, much as how anticancer agents attack tumors.
âPart of our strategy is to treat Alzheimerâs like cancer,â he said.
For the mid-stage, or Phase 2, trial, researchers enrolled subjects whose brain images showed both amyloid buildup and tangles of another Alzheimerâs hallmark protein, tau. They were given either donanemab or a placebo by IV infusion every four weeks.
Researchers measured subjectsâ cognition and ability to perform daily functions like dressing, using a questionnaire that caregivers often answered.
Every six months, researchers imaged study subjectsâ brains. If their amyloid plaques had gone away, they stopped getting donanemab.
Dr. Skovronsky said the positive results support researchersâ hypothesis that the buildup of amyloid plays an important role in Alzheimerâs.
In the trial, 27% of subjects who took donanemab showed signs in imaging of fluid buildup in their brains, Lilly said, with 6% experiencing symptoms.
Write to Jonathan D. Rockoff at Jonathan.Rockoff@wsj.com
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