Genentech Gets Alzheimer's Drug Trial

Bay Area scientists hunt ways to stall Alzheimer's earlier

Wednesday, May 16, 2012  |  Updated 7:34 AM PDT
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NBC Bay Area's Brent Cannon sits down with Bill Fisher, CEO of the Alzheimer's Association Northern California, to discuss how to prevent and combat the disease. For more information, visit www.ALZ.org or call the 24-hour help line at 1-800-272-3900.

NBC Bay Area's Brent Cannon sits down with Bill Fisher, CEO of the Alzheimer's Association Northern California, to discuss how to prevent and combat the disease. For more information, visit www.ALZ.org or call the 24-hour help line at 1-800-272-3900.

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Two big news broke Tuesday concerning Alzheimer's Disease.

First, a drug developed by Bay Area-based Genentech Inc. was chosen to be tested on healthy people in hopes of preventing the symptoms of Alzheimer's before the disease takes hold.

It is the first-ever prevention trial in cognitively healthy people destined to develop Alzheimer's because of their genetic history. Specifically it will investigate whether an anti-amyloid treatment can stave off the disease.

Genentech researchers hope the results of the trial will lead to widespread treatment that can help prevent or stall the dementia related disease that destroys the brain.

Also Tuesday, the Obama administration declared Alzheimer's one of the country's biggest health challenges and adopted a national strategy that sets the clock ticking toward better treatments by 2025 — along with help for suffering families today.

"What we know is a lot more needs to be done and it needs to be done right now, because people with Alzheimer's disease and their loved ones and caregivers need help right now," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in announcing the first National Alzheimer's Plan.

"This is a strong plan that promises important progress when implemented," said Harry Johns, president of the Alzheimer's Association said of the administration's efforts.

A meeting of the world's top Alzheimer's scientists this week made clear that meeting the 2025 deadline will require developing a mix of treatments to attack the different ways that Alzheimer's damages the brain
much like it can take a cocktail of drugs to treat high blood pressure or the AIDS virus.

Right now, 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer's or related dementia. Barring a research breakthrough, those numbers will jump by 2050, when up to 16 million Americans are projected to have Alzheimer's.
 
There is no cure, and the five medications available today only temporarily ease some symptoms. Finding better ones has been a disappointing slog: Over the last decade, 10 drugs that initially seemed promising failed in late-stage testing, Dr. Reisa Sperling of Harvard Medical School said.

Moreover scientists still don't know exactly what causes Alzheimer's. The chief suspects are a sticky gunk called beta-amalyoid, which makes up the disease's hallmark brain plaques, and tangles of a protein named tau that clogs dying brain cells. One theory: Amyloid may kick off the disease while tau speeds up the brain destruction.

That is why Genentech's study specifically mentions the study of amyloid.

There are brain-protective steps that anyone can take that just might help, Dr. Carl Cotman of the University of California, Irvine, told Tuesday's NIH meeting.
 
His advice:

  •  Your brain is like a muscle so exercise it. Intellectual and social stimulation help build what's called "cognitive reserve," the ability to withstand declines from aging and dementia.
  •  Getting physical is crucial also. Clogged arteries slow blood flow to the brain, and people who are less active in middle age are at increased risk of Alzheimer's when they're older. ``Any time your heart is healthier, your brain is healthier,'' said Dr. Elizabeth Head of the University of Kentucky.
  •  Don't forget diet, she added. The same foods that are heart-healthy are brain-healthy, such as the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish.
     

Here is a link to the Bay Area Alzheimer's Assocation website. It is filled with support services options and facts about Alzheimers.

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