Drugmakers to share data to speed brain research

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Major drugmakers will share data from their clinical trials for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease in an effort to speed the development of new medicines to treat the brain disorders.

An unidentified man suffering from Alzheimer's disease sleeps in a nursing home in the Netherlands, May 7, 2008. REUTERS/Michael Kooren

The database, a public/private partnership unveiled on Friday, will give academic and industry researchers worldwide access to information from more than 4,000 patients with neurodegenerative diseases.

Bringing the data together, rather than keeping pieces of it within each drug company, will give scientists a larger amount of information on how the diseases progress and how they differ in various patients.

Backers hope the approach will jump start research into treatments for some of the toughest and most common brain disorders. Despite decades of study, doctors still have few effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, which affects more than 26 million people globally. It is the most common form of dementia.

An estimated four million people worldwide have Parkinson’s disease, which causes trembling and other symptoms.

Information in the new database should help drugmakers design more efficient clinical trials of potential treatments, said Dr. Raymond Woosley, president and chief executive of the Critical Path Institute, a nonprofit organization working to improve drug development.

Some patients, for example, develop Alzheimer’s in their 80s while for others it starts in their 40s, Woosley said. The disease probably evolves differently in those groups, but companies only have small numbers in each age range to study in their own trials.

“If you have 4,000 patients (in the database), you begin to have enough data to see their real course” and can target a drug to specific types of patients, Woosley said in an interview.

At a news conference to unveil the effort, Woosley said future clinical trials “will be smaller, they’ll be shorter and yet far more likely to find successful therapies because of this database.”

The project is coordinated by the Coalition Against Major Diseases, an organization of patient groups and 13 drugmakers that is part of the Critical Path Institute.

Companies that have already contributed clinical data are Pfizer Inc, GlaxoSmithKline PLC, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis AG Sanofi-Aventis and Abbott Laboratories Inc..

Manufacturers agreed to participate because they realize “innovation no longer happens in one company’s laboratory. It happens through constant interaction between scientists in the biopharmaceutical industry, patient advocacy organizations, academia and government,” said Dr. Frank Casty, an AstraZeneca vice president.

Officials from the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and the European Medicines Agency serve as advisers.

FDA Deputy Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein said information gleaned from the data will help the agency and outside experts identify the best standards for future clinical trials.

The results “will allow safe and effective treatments to come to market and get to patients more quickly,” he said.

Reporting by Lisa Richwine; editing by Carol Bishopric and Tim Dobbyn