When Drug Companies Back Out of Alzheimer’s Research…

Pfizer, a major American pharmaceutical giant, recently stated that they will be pulling out of Alzheimer’s treatment research.

With such a heavy influence in the pharmaceutical industry, the Alzheimer’s Society said that this news is a ‘heavy blow’ to those currently living with dementia-related conditions. Not only will this company stop investing in potential Alzheimer’s treatments, but also treatments for Parkinson’s.

What do instances such as this mean for Alzheimer’s research?

Pfizer Drops Out of the Race to Find a Cure

Pfizer is the third largest global drug maker. They recently announced that they will end their research for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s drugs. However, they will continue research into rare neurological diseases.

Although this is life-changing news for the hundreds of researchers and employees who will lose their jobs, millions of individuals affected by these neurodegenerative conditions are feeling a sense of hopelessness. The idea of finding a potential cure is something that so many desperately cling to. This news is disappointing to say the least, making many people ask, why?

In a company statement, Pfizer stated, “They plan to focus on areas where they have strong scientific leadership — allowing them to provide the greatest impact for patients.”

There are many speculations as to why Pfizer has halted research and development efforts in this critical area. As stated by News Week, this announcement came after Trump announced a large tax break, making Pfizer a prime beneficiary. The company denies these claims.

The fear surrounding this recent news is that it may create a trend. If one of the largest pharmaceutical companies has decided that they will no longer back critical research, who is next? Will this announcement create a ripple effect among other large companies?

Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Research is Costly

When it comes to the cost of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s-related research, the word ‘costly’ is an understatement. Since these diseases are often unique from one person to the next, clinical trials are long and complicated. A single human trial can cost tens to even hundreds of millions of dollars.

In the past 20 years, for instance, Pfizer has sponsored 99+ trials, testing 24 potential Alzheimer’s drugs. During this period, Aricept was the only drug to be approved. Although this would be frustrating from a business standpoint, Pfizer is a highly profitable business. It was reported that as of November 2016, the company’s market value was around 155 billion U.S. dollars.

It is also important to note that failed clinical trials often unveil key pieces of information. Findings are used to redesign future studies, as they help researchers better understand key variables. With plans to use their tax overhaul to pay investors, Pfizer has left many Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients feeling as though their fight is no longer worth the expense.

Has this happened before, and what does this recent announcement mean for the Alzheimer’s community?

Alzheimer’s Research Will Continue

In February 2017, another drug company — Merck, pulled the plug on a late-stage Alzheimer’s drug trial. The company had high hopes, but the drug failed to improve individuals with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s. After making their announcement, their shares fell by nearly 2 percent.

Studies often show positive effects in transgenic rats, but humans show a much lower success rate. It may appear on the surface that little has been done in the past two decades regarding a potential treatment, but this could not be further from the truth.

Each trial is a piece of the puzzle, and put simply, all research is valuable. Each and every study helps Alzheimer’s research evolve.

For example, a 2018 study, found that the drug J147 had a positive impact on Alzheimer’s and the overall aging process. Studied in mice and flies, this drug binds to a protein in the mitochondria, which is the energy powerhouse of cells. This led to key changes, making mice younger at both the cellular and molecular level.

In another very recent study, researchers were aiming to cure diabetes. To their surprise, the drug was shown to significantly reverse memory loss, and is now being examined as a possible treatment for neurodegenerative conditions, including Alzheimer’s.

As published in Brain Research, the drug lead to:

  • Improved memory formation in mice.
  • Reduced amyloid plaque, inflammation, and oxidative stress.
  • Increased neurogenesis.

These are just two of the studies published in the past two weeks. This means that it is important to maintain high levels of hope. Although one drug company backed out of Alzheimer’s research, this will not hinder future progress.

As technology evolves, new discoveries will be made. This will change the future of Alzheimer’s treatment. With continuous progress, we are now closer to a cure than ever before.

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Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

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