Eli Lilly’s Alzhiemer’s Drug Shows Potential in Final Trials

Photo credit: Robina Weermeijer/Unsplash

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The World Health Organization picked 2030 as a seemingly random stretch goal for finding a cure for the global scourge that is Alzheimer’s Disease. Stunningly, it now looks like the medical industry might be on track to get it done.

On Wednesday, pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly announced that its experimental drug, donanemab, slowed the progress of Alzheimer’s in a final stage trial, setting the stage for FDA approval.

The Bad Kind of Protein

Donanemab reportedly slowed the disease by 35% over a year-and-a-half trial of more than 1,000 patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Similar to Eisai and Biogen’s drug, Leqembi, which was approved in January, Eli Lilly’s treatment works by attacking amyloid proteins that have built up to toxic levels in the brain.

It’s still not fully agreed upon exactly what role amyloid protein plaque plays in Alzheimer’s because while everyone with the disease has the plaque, not everyone with the plaque has the disease, similar to the relationship between tumors and cancer. The plaque may be a signifier of Alzheimer’s but not necessarily the root cause.

Despite needing more research on that end, the market and medical community has responded positively to Eli Lilly’s news:

  • After the announcement, Eli Lilly’s stock rose from about $415 per share to $431, roughly 4%, by the New York market close.
  • Citigroup analyst Andrew Baum called donanemab the “new gold standard” in Alzheimer’s drugs, and Paresh Malhotra, a professor of clinical neurology at Imperial College London, said “we are now entering the treatment era of Alzheimer’s disease,” Bloomberg reported.

Side Effects: Eli Lilly’s drug is not flawless and came with some nasty results. It caused brain swelling and bleeding in 24% and 31% of subjects, respectively. Three people died who took the drug and suffered one or both of those symptoms. In a note, Bloomberg Intelligence analysts John Murphy and Sam Fazeli said while it reduced Alzheimer’s progression at a rate similar to Leqembi, the rate of serious complications was much worse. Still, any progress, no matter how small, on a disease that affects more than 55 million people worldwide, is good news indeed.