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The Takeaway: Pfizer Alzheimer's Drug Fails Late-Stage Study

An experimental treatment for Alzheimer's disease has turned out to be a disappointment in the first finished late-stage study, manufacturer Pfizer said Monday. Called bapineuzumab, it's one of three Alzheimer's treatments currently in clinical trials that some have been calling our "last hope" for drugs that slow the progression of the disease.

But it's premature to discount bapineuzumab entirely, said Pfizer. Both it and Johnson & Johnson are still testing the drug on other groups of patients -- ones without a gene variant called ApoE4. This gene variant ups people's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

The failed bapineuzumab trial was in patients with ApoE4, who "might not have as good a chance as people who are not carriers" of the drug working, said Johnson & Johnson rep Ellen Rose.

All of the current medications targeting Alzheimer's disease deal strictly with the symptoms, temporarily easing things like memory loss or agitation. None work to slow, stop or reverse the underlying course of the disease.

Researchers testing bapineuzumab said they "remain hopeful" about the remaining trials. But analyst Erik Gordon told AP that chances of it working in people without the ApoE4 gene are slim. "Fortunately, Pfizer is carrying on despite the slimness of the hope for bapineuzumab because slim hopes are all the hope we have at this point for Alzheimer's," he added.

Tuesday Quick Hits: 

  • RIP Sally Ride. Five things you may not know about America's first woman astronaut, who died at age 61 on Monday with pancreatic cancer.
  • The grocer will see you now. A host of new "medical foods" purporting to improve brain function are heading toward the market. Also known as "nutracueticals," these products aren't regulated by the FDA (i.e. buyer beware).
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