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Published on: June 20, 2014
by Hester Plumridge for The Wall Street Journal:
The world’s biggest dementia study was launched in the U.K. Thursday, and will analyze data from more than two million people to try and find new treatments for the little-understood disease, including its commonest form, Alzheimer’s.
The study – a $27 million public-private partnership – forms part of coordinated G8 efforts to target dementia, and will be run by the U.K’s publicly-funded Medical Research Council, with support from several drug makers –AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and Janssen Research and Development, a unit of Johnson & Johnson.
The public policy focus is being warmly greeted, given an industry pull-back in the area. Spending on dementia research is five times lower globally than spending on cancer, as U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron points out. Research into drugs targeting the brain and central nervous system makes up just 15% of the industry’s projects, estimates Barclays. That’s despite the diseases’ disproportionate cost to national health systems.
There are good reasons for this: developing neuroscience drugs is a high risk undertaking. They typically have lower success rates in clinical trials and with regulators, since efficacy can be hard to prove. Physiologically, the actions of the brain and nervous system are not as well understood as, say, the mechanics of the gut.
For instance, Bristol-Myers Squibb stopped neuroscience drug discovery last November. AstraZeneca no longer sees it as a core area of focus, and is trying to partner or sell its neuroscience drug portfolio, including an experimental Alzheimer’s drug in development. Glaxo is also looking to sell a portfolio of its older CSN drugs.
Still, treatments for Alzheimer’s represent one of the remaining untapped areas of medicine and profits. AstraZeneca thinks its experimental Alzheimer’s drug– now entering late-stage testing but viewed as six months behind a rival compound from Merck & Co– could, if approved, rack up $5 billion in annual sales, but gives it just a 9% chance of success.
Picture: Getty Images
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