World Alzheimer’s Day, on September 21 each year, is a reminder of the urgent need to discover and develop effective medicines to treat patients with Alzheimer’s. In 2006, an estimated 26 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s disease worldwide (Brookmeyer R, Johnson E, Ziegler-Graham K, MH Arrighi. Forecasting the global burden of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s and Dementia. 2007), and based on the projections of how the population is ageing across the globe that number is expected to reach more than 50 million by 2050 (World population prospects: the 2006 revision, highlights [PDF]. 2007.).
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, and no treatments that stop or reverse its destruction of brain cells, causing the decline of functions such as memory, judgement, ability to understand and ultimately ability to recognize familiar objects and people. Alzheimer’s is debilitating for patients, and devastating for the families of patients as they watch their loved one decline. It is fatal. Most patients die within seven years of diagnosis.
AstraZeneca has a dedicated team of experts in Cambridge, MA in the US, and in Cambridge, UK, who are progressing a portfolio of small molecule and biologics drug projects for Alzheimer’s disease. These scientists work with academic and industry researchers around the world on the latest groundbreaking science to advance our understanding of the disease and to discover and develop meaningful medicines to treat Alzheimer’s.
One such project is AZD3293, a candidate drug that we started testing in clinical trials in 2012. AZD3293 targets the β-site APP cleaving enzyme-1 (BACE), the enzyme that is the first step in the production of amyloid-β peptide (Aβ) – a key pathological signature of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain. Inhibiting Aβ production is considered one of the most promising approaches in slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
In preclinical tests, AZD3293 has shown that it is effective at stopping the production of Aβ. We expect to be able to share the first clinical data with the Alzheimer’s science community in the coming months. In the next phase of clinical testing, we would ask the bigger question, whether the inhibition of BACE will demonstrate efficacy in patients, namely slowing disease progression. We are making strides but it takes time. These programs now starting their clinical testing have been in active research since the first identification of the BACE enzyme in 1999.
For the scientific community, developing new medicines to treat Alzheimer’s disease is indisputably one of the most challenging areas of medical research today. The causes of Alzheimer’s and its progression in the brain are still not fully understood. And research suggests that the disease process can begin up to 20 years prior to the onset of symptoms. Thankfully, we are also making great progress in the science that helps us identify patients early in the disease process so that we can recruit them for clinical trials.
World Alzheimer’s Day is a reminder that we cannot give up. We must continue to work together with our research colleagues in academia and government to search for solutions. Only by working together to pool knowledge and resources in the battle against Alzheimer’s, can we increase our chances to discover and develop meaningful treatments for patients suffering from this debilitating disease.