July 22, 2015 / 8:46 PM / 3 years ago

Roche steps up work on two experimental Alzheimer's drugs

LONDON (Reuters) - Roche is to step up its research efforts on two Alzheimer’s drugs, both of which suffered setbacks in tests last year, reflecting its belief in drugs targeting protein plaques found in brains of patients with the disease.

The move follows new evidence presented on Wednesday that rival antibody drugs from Eli Lilly and Biogen, working in a similar way, may produce improvements in people with the memory-robbing condition.

A Roche spokesman said crenezumab would now move into late-stage Phase III development and it also aimed to run fresh clinical trials using higher doses of gantenerumab, after that drug failed in an initial Phase III study.

“We are developing novel approaches to implement higher doses in ongoing and future studies of gantenerumab and have requested feedback from health authorities,” he added.

The Swiss drugmaker, which reports half-year results on Thursday, did not give further details on when new trials might start.

The revival in gantenerumab’s fortunes has been helped by evidence of its biological activity in patients, based on tests of spinal fluid and brain scans. Details of these so-called biomarker findings were presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in Washington earlier on Wednesday.

Roche had said last December it was ending a late-stage study of gantenerumab after it failed to prove effective.

Philip Scheltens of the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, who presented the data at AAIC, said the latest data suggested gantenerumab was clearing beta-amyloid plaques from the brain but the dose was too low.

“Future trials should examine higher doses of the drug,” he said.

Gantenerumab, which Roche secured through a partnership with Morphosys, is very similar to Biogen’s aducanumab in the way it blocks beta amyloid.

The AAIC meeting was told of promising clinical trial results for both aducanumab and Eli Lilly’s solanezumab, although experts said results of larger confirmatory trials were still needed.

Roche’s pharmaceuticals head Daniel O’Day had said in April that the company would look again at prospects for its two experimental Alzheimer’s drugs.

Dementia, of which Alzheimer’s is the most common form, affects close to 50 million people worldwide, a total set to reach 135 million by 2050, according to non-profit campaign group Alzheimer’s Disease International.

Unlike heart disease and cancer, which have seen major strides in drug development, there is still no treatment that can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. Current drugs can do no more than ease some of the symptoms.

Reporting by Ben Hirschler

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