Johnson & Johnson hasn’t given up on the ability of its experimental drug bapineuzumab to alter the course of Alzheimer’s disease, even after two key studies failed to find a benefit, the company’s neuroscience unit head said.
Researchers are still reviewing the disappointing studies, looking to see whether there are signs the drug may slow the progression of dementia if taken earlier, said Husseini Manji, head of neuroscience at J&J, the world’s biggest maker of health-care products. Additional analysis is also being done on its ability to reduce tau, a tangled protein found in the brains of those with the mind-robbing disease, he said in an interview.
“We remain optimistic there is something there,” Manji said yesterday in an interview at a conference hosted by the London Business School.
J&J, based in New Brunswick, New Jersey, is expecting to see more data in the “next few months” on intravenous bapineuzumab from studies conducted by New York-based Pfizer Inc., its partner on the drug, Manji said. The companies will decide how to continue development of the experimental medicine based on the results of the Pfizer studies and the separate findings from mid-stage studies of another version of the drug given as a shot instead of intravenously, he said.
J&J won’t decide what to do with its stake in a planned spinoff of bapineuzumab’s original developer, Elan Corp., until its sees more data from the trials, Manji said. Future studies may evaluate one or both formulations in people who aren’t yet showing signs of dementia, he said.
J&J gained its share in bapineuzumab and the right to help develop the drug with its 2009 purchase of an 18 percent stake in Dublin-based Elan for $1 billion. Elan announced its plans to spin off its drug discovery unit to existing shareholders in August, after the second bapineuzumab failure.
The new company, previously called Neotope Biosciences Plc, will now be known as Prothena Corp., Elan said today. Prothena will be incorporated in Ireland and will trade on a U.S. exchange, Elan said. Elan will own 18 percent of Prothena, while Elan’s investors will own the rest. Shareholders will vote on the plan at a meeting in Dublin on Dec. 12.
J&J has a collaboration with General Electric Co. to devise “biosignatures” for Alzheimer’s disease, using blood and imaging tests to determine a person’s risk for the condition before signs and symptoms start to appear. Future research may target those high-risk patients who don’t yet have even mild-to-moderate disease, Manji said.
Recent research has shown changes begin to develop in the brains of people destined for Alzheimer’s disease a quarter of a century before forgetfulness or other symptoms start to appear. By preventing the amyloid plaque and tau tangles in the brain from worsening in those people, doctors say they may one day be able to stop or delay the devastation caused by the disease.
By the time Alzheimer’s has taken hold, it’s too late for the intravenous form of bapineuzumab to make a difference, even in those with the mildest cases, Manji said.