Patients who started Eli Lilly & Co.’s experimental Alzheimer’s drug earlier in their disease’s progression consistently did better on follow-up memory and thinking tests than those who waited to be treated, a study found.
The result shows that Lilly’s drug, called solanezumab, has the potential to slow the course of the memory-robbing disorder, researchers said. The study was released Wednesday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Washington. An extension of two major trials, it also advances Lilly’s bid to be the first drugmaker with a treatment that affects the disease itself.
“To be fair, solanezumab doesn’t stop the progression of the disease, it slows it,” said Eric Siemers, distinguished medical fellow on the development team for the drug. “Still if you’re not taking it, you’re losing something you can’t get back if you wait and start it later.”
In the 1,322-patient extension trial, patients in the original experiments who hadn’t gotten solanezumab were put on the drug, while patients who had gotten the drug continued taking it.
Over the next year and a half, the group that had started solanezumab earlier consistently scored almost two points better when measured on a common cognition test used for Alzheimer’s patients.
Lilly shares fell 4 percent to $82.18 at 9:40 a.m. in New York. The stock had gained 34 percent in the last 12 months, as of Tuesday’s close.
William Thies, the senior scientist in residence at the Alzheimer’s Association, said the result shows the drug can modify the disease, not just treat its symptoms. Solanezumab works by preventing plaque tangles in the brain that are thought to damage neurons.
“This is pretty clear evidence of a disease modifying-effect as opposed to some sort of symptomatic effect that’s long-lasting,” he said. “There has been a steady search for drugs that affect the course of Alzheimer’s disease. This is pretty good evidence that in this set of data, solanezumab does that.”
Lilly has pushed ahead with another late-stage study of solanezumab in patients whose disease is only mildly far along, which should start wrapping up late next year. If successful, that trial would be the basis for U.S. regulatory approval.
Analysts have predicted solanezumab could generate more than $5 billion a year and rejuvenate the company after years of products losing patent protection. Lilly’s revenue dropped to a seven-year quarterly low this year.