Alzheimer’s Therapy May Come From New Look at Old Drugs

An effort to find new uses for drugs that have failed in clinical trials may offer hope for Alzheimer’s patients, a top U.S. health research scientist said.

Research began a year ago on a therapy targeting another disease “is looking pretty interesting” in Alzheimer’s, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins said today at a breakfast sponsored by Bloomberg Government in Washington.

The NIH awarded $12.7 million to nine academic groups in June to help fund research in eight disease areas as part of a pilot initiative. Eight drugmakers including New York-based Pfizer Inc. (PFE) and Paris-based Sanofi (SAN) offered 58 failed treatment candidates relegated to companies’ freezers, Collins said.

“A year from now, I think we’ll know if we’ve hit a home run in there somewhere,” he said at the breakfast.

Since 1998 there have been more than 100 attempts to develop a treatment for Alzheimer’s and all have failed. More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, a patient population that is expected to triple by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. As many as a half-million people in the U.S. may die from the disease each year, making it the country’s No. 3 killer, researchers reported last month in the journal Neurology.

“These compounds have already gone through most of the pipeline,” Collins said of the NIH-funded research. “You can go almost immediately to a clinical trial. And if it works, wow, you’ve saved 10 years.”

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