Match service aims to speed Alzheimer's research

HONOLULU (Reuters) - A new online service designed to match Alzheimer’s patients with clinical trials may help address a big bottleneck in developing new drugs -- a lack of people to test them on, U.S. researchers said on Monday.

The Alzheimer’s Association estimates there are more than 100 clinical trials in Alzheimer’s drugs and dementia taking place, and dozens more experimental drugs that will soon be ready to test. Yet too few people sign up for the studies.

“We’re going to need over 10,000 Alzheimer’s patients over the next five years to enroll just the trials that are already planned,” Dr. Reisa Sperling of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston said in an interview at the Alzheimer’s Association meeting in Honolulu.

Sperling said it takes drug companies an average of one to two years to enroll enough patients in their mid-stage and late-stage clinical trials.

“If it takes 18 months to enroll and the trials are 18 months long, that is three years for every single drug,” she said. “That is just too long. That means at this rate we will not be able to test all these drugs until 2030 when we have triple the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease.”

The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that from 2010 to 2050, the cost of caring for Americans 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease will increase more than six times to $1.08 trillion per year.

Current drugs help manage symptoms but no treatment can stop the progression of Alzheimer’s, which can start with vague memory loss and confusion before progressing to complete disability and death.

“Many medical centers and pharmaceutical companies and universities around the world are trying to develop therapies that are disease-modifying,” said Dr. Ronald Petersen of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who heads the Alzheimer’s Association’s medical and scientific advisory council.

“The single biggest barrier is the recruitment of an adequate number of subjects,” he told a news conference.

Doctors are part of the problem, Sperling said.

An Alzheimer’s Association poll found that nearly 75 percent of doctors had referred their patients to clinical trials, but only 25 percent had referred them to Alzheimer’s disease trials, she said.

The new matching service, called TrialMatch, works a bit like an online dating site. Patients or their caregivers fill out a basic profile, and then get a list of potential matches.

Patients who want to move ahead can then speak to a trained operator who will help them get in touch with doctors in their area looking for patients for their studies.

The Alzheimer’s Association is spending $1.2 million on the service, which can be found at

Editing by Alan Elsner