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Fighting Alzheimer’s Disease

America’s biopharmaceutical research companies are investigating or developing 77 medicines to treat Alzheimer's

There are more than five million Americans living with Alzheimer’s today. For patients with Alzheimer’s and other dementia, America’s biopharmaceutical research companies have 77 medicines in clinical trials or awaiting FDA approval. This research will help to bring us closer to our goal of tackling and eventually conquering this debilitating disease.

Current medicines for Alzheimer’s disease are approved to treat the cognitive symptoms of the disease – helping memory loss, confusion and problems with thinking – but do not address the underlying causes of the disease.

Today, research is focused on treatments that may stop or slow down the disease progression – disease-modifying agents.

5.3 Million Americans Afflicted

Today, more than 5 million Americans are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The disease ravages the minds of patients, burdens families and currently costs the health care system $226 billion a year. These sobering statistics are projected to get much worse as the 76 million American baby boomers age.

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Preventing Alzheimer's Disease

Following the research setbacks experienced over the last few years to find treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, several U.S. government grants have been awarded to study medicines that have the potential to prevent Alzheimer’s.

  • In September 2013, a $33.2 million grant was awarded to study the effects of an Alzheimer’s medicine on people who have no symptoms of the disease, who are between the ages of 60 and 75 and, while they are not symptomatic, they do have two copies of a gene known to increase the risk of getting Alzheimer’s. 

  • Another grant was awarded to study an anti-amyloid monoclonal antibody in people at risk for late-stage onset Alzheimer’s disease. Those patients have amyloid plaques in their brains, but are not experiencing any symptoms of the disease.

  • In 2012, $16 million was awarded to help test an anti-amyloid monoclonal antibody on a large extended family in Colombia with a gene mutation that causes them to develop early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

"Policy underlies all of the care that's available for people with Alzheimer's and other dementias, and it also underlies the funding for research — looking for a cure."

- Katie Maslow, Scholar-in-residence, National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine, Research and Hope Award Winner

$367 Billion

The amount America would save in long-term care and other health care costs by 2050 if we develop a new medicine that delays the onset of Alzheimer’s by just five years.

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Research Breakthroughs in Alzheimer's Disease

Early research discoveries often fuel the drug development pathways that biopharmaceutical company scientists undertake. Those discoveries help researchers target the disease through certain biological mechanisms that may have been previously unknown. Some noteworthy recent scientific discoveries in the field of Alzheimer’s research include:

  • Researchers at Mount Sinai Medical Center found 10 genes that account for half of the genetic risk for Alzheimer’s.

  • Two separate research groups have identified a mutation on the TREM2 gene that may increase a person’s chance of developing late-stage Alzheimer’s disease by three to five times.

1 in 34

Historically, one in 34 medicines researched for Alzheimer's disease has reached the pharmacy shelves.

Said Jan M. Lundberg, Ph.D. of Eli Lilly and Company: “We as scientists in the basic science and the medical science of the pharmaceutical industry, we constantly have to overcome hurdles and find new pathways forward in the diseases we are trying to treat, so what other people call failures is something we are very used to, and we have to celebrate conclusive outcomes in my view. We need to get data so we can draw conclusions and move from there, adopt and learn from so-called “failures”. This has happened in the Alzheimer’s area for numerous companies for many, many years, and we had a recent one ourselves.”

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Medicines in the Pipeline

Medicines currently available for Alzheimer’s treat the cognitive symptoms of the disease—helping memory loss, confusion and problems with thinking—but do not address the underlying causes of the disease. Ongoing research is focused on treatments that may stop or slow down disease progression—disease-modifying agents. Two key hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease are the appearance of amyloid plaques and neurofi-brillary tangles in the brain. Plaques are abnormal clusters of beta-amyloid protein fragments between nerve cells, while tangles are twisted fibers made primarily of a protein called “tau” that accumulates in the brain cells, damaging and killing them. Scroll to learn about other exciting areas of research to treat and prevent Alzheimer's:

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Related Medicines

  • Inhibiting Beta-Amyloid Production

    A potential first-in-class medicine prevents the production of beta-amyloid by inhibiting an enzyme that is crucial in its propagation called the beta-site amyloid precursor protein cleaving enzyme (BACE1) inhibitor.

  • Gene Therapy to Restore Neuronal Function

    A gene therapy for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease is designed to deliver nerve growth factor (NGF) to the brain. NGF is a natu-rally occurring protein important for neuron survival.

  • Boosting Immune Responses with Vaccine Treatments

    A synthetic vaccine using an “affitope,” a peptide designed to mimic beta-amyloid antigens, induces antibody production against this protein without creating a systemic immune response.

  • Preventing Plaque Formation

    A small molecule compound has been shown to prevent the formation and accumulation of the soluble and insoluble forms of beta-amyloid protein as well as amyloid plaques.

  • Targeting Upstream Pathways

    A potential first-in-class disease-modifying medicine for the treatment of Alzheimer’s targets energy production in neurons.



View additional resources to learn more about medicines currently in development to treat and prevent Alzheimer's disease.