The drug failed to slow the progress of the disease in late stages, but Pfizer is not giving up.
TRENTON, N.J. - A closely watched experimental Alzheimer's treatment has failed to slow the disease in one late-stage study, a big disappointment for doctors and patients but not the end of the road for the drug. Pfizer Inc. said Monday it will continue to study the drug's effect on a different group of patients.
Pfizer, which is testing bapineuzumab with partner Johnson & Johnson, said the injected drug didn't slow mental or functional decline in patients with mild or moderate Alzheimer's disease. The study included about 1,100 patients who carry a gene called ApoE4, which gives people a higher risk of developing the memory-robbing disorder.
About half the population does not carry that gene, however, and studies in patients without the gene continue. Results of one trial are set to be announced later this summer.
Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman Ellen Rose said scientists who conducted mid-stage tests on bapineuzumab had seen "a hint that the people who are carriers of the ApoE4 gene might not have as good a chance as people who are not carriers."
New York-based Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, based in New Brusnwick, N.J., are each running two studies of the experimental drug. The other three studies -- two in patients without the ApoE4 gene and one in patients with it -- are all continuing, after review by an independent safety monitoring committee.
There's no known cure for Alzheimer's disease. Current medicines, including Pfizer's Aricept and Forest Laboratories' Namenda, temporarily ease symptoms such as memory loss, confusion and agitation. But they do nothing to slow, stop or reverse mental decline.
Finding a drug that could at least slow the disease has become a sort of Holy Grail in the pharmaceutical industry. A successful medicine would be guaranteed to generate billions in annual sales, given the world's aging population.
Worldwide, about 35 million people already have dementia, and Alzheimer's is the most common type. In the United States, about 5 million have Alzheimer's.