Drugmakers remain confident in Alzheimer's disease breakthrough despite setback for Eli Lilly

Following the failure of Eli Lilly's experimental drug solanezumab in a Phase III study, a number of drugmakers active in developing Alzheimer's disease therapies expressed confidence in their own programmes. "Disappointing, for sure, but for us it doesn't shake our confidence going forward," remarked Samantha Budd Haeberlein, head of Alzheimer's disease clinical development at Biogen.

Biogen is developing aducanumab, which, similar to solanezumab, targets beta amyloid. "We don't think that it -- by itself, one therapeutic -- negates the amyloid hypothesis," Haeberlein added. Meanwhile, a Roche spokesman said "we remain confident in our clinical development programmes and continue evaluating two late-stage antibodies that target beta amyloid, crenezumab and gantenerumab." The spokesman noted that the two agents "are distinct from each other, as well as from other investigational medicines."

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The study results for solanezumab raise further questions about the amyloid beta hypothesis in Alzheimer's disease, with Guggenheim Securities analyst Tony Butler noting "it's absolutely unclear." Credit Suisse analyst Vamil Divan remarked "I wouldn't throw the amyloid hypothesis out on this data," suggesting that solanezumab could possibly be used as a combination therapy, or at a different dosage.

However, Rita Balice-Gordon, head of neuroscience at Sanofi, cautioned that there will be further failures as drug development continues in Alzheimer's disease. "This is such a devastating disease, and it's so important for scientists to continue to push through this," said Balice-Gordon, adding "I'm committed to beating the drum for doing well-reasoned and well-researched clinical experiments, which will help drive the field collectively forward."

For related analysis, read ViewPoints: Heads I win, tails you lose – solanezumab's near-miss seen as ideal result for others, and Spotlight On: Solanezumab's near-miss could turn out to be worst-case-scenario for sector.

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