Stage: Phase III, scheduled for completion in January 2007.
Why It MattersSince 1980 the number of people in the U.S. who have Alzheimer's has doubled, to 4.5 million cases. By 2050, public health officials estimate, that amount could triple. According to Neil Buckholtz at the National Institute on Aging, the drugs currently employed against Alzheimer's are targeted to its symptoms rather than the chemistry underlying its progression.
How It WorksNow a new generation of therapies that address the root of Alzheimer's is on the horizon. Of these, Alzhemed is the closest to public release. Alzhemed targets beta amyloid, a protein fragment researchers believe is a primary cause of Alzheimer's. Specifically, it blocks beta amyloid from forming the abnormal clumps in the brain that are linked to the disease.
Other promising therapies targeting beta amyloid are Myriad Genetics's drug Flurizan, in phase III, and Elan's vaccine AAB-001, in phase II, says Leon Thal at the University of California, San Diego.
"These drugs are addressing one of the key questions in Alzheimer's science," says William Thies, vice president of medical and scientific affairs for the Alzheimer's Association. "If you prevent the buildup of beta amyloid, do you change the course of the disease? Everyone's anxious for the answer."