Biogen’s Alzheimer Drug Slows Symptoms in Small, Early Trial

Updated on
  • Shares gain 1.5 percent, reversing earlier losses Thursday
  • Data are a subset of 196-person trial testing aducanumab

Biogen Inc.’s experimental drug helped slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms in a subgroup of patients in a small, early test.

In the 196-person trial, a smaller subset of Alzheimer’s patients taking the drug, aducanumab, performed better on cognitive tests than did those on placebo, according to a summary of the results that will be presented in full at the Clinical Trials on Alzheimer’s Disease meeting Friday.

Biogen shares closed up 1.5 percent at $289.54 in New York, reversing losses earlier in the day. The results add to data from the wider trial that have already been presented.

Patients in the subgroup were given increasingly higher doses of the drug as the trial went on. They appeared to have less brain swelling than similar patients on a fixed high dose, according to the summary, which didn’t say whether that difference was statistically significant.

Biogen also tracked patients from earlier in the wider study, who were followed for as long as two years. In the group on the highest doses, there appeared to be a sustained benefit in slowing cognitive decline, according to another analysis to be presented at the medical meeting. No new cases of brain swelling were seen among that group. Because all patients still in the study were given the drug at some dose after a year, there were no patients taking a placebo to compare them to.

Alzheimer’s Setback

Biogen’s data follows a setback in the Alzheimer’s field last month, when Eli Lilly & Co.’s therapy for Alzheimer’s failed in a large, final-stage trial. Biogen’s results could give renewed hope to proponents of a theory that Alzheimer’s is at least in part caused by abnormal protein in the brain called beta amyloid. Biogen’s and Lilly’s drugs both target the protein.

Alzheimer’s has grown into the sixth-biggest cause of death in the U.S., killing about 700,000 people annually, and is the only one among the top killers that cannot be prevented, cured or slowed, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. More than 100 compounds have failed to show the ability to slow the condition, which robs patients of their minds and eventually their lives.