Two drug-based treatments for Alzheimer's produce mixed results

The focus of drug-based treatments for Alzheimer’s is the subject of a tug-of-war, according to Bloomberg.

Researchers have mostly focused on treatments that would reduce the clumps of amyloid proteins found in Alzheimer’s patients’ brains. But according to health organization FasterCures, a total of 190 amyloid Alzheimer’s drug trials have failed to land on an effective treatment in the 110 years since the disease was first described.

Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Eli Lilly have all had to suspend amyloid-blocking drug trials in humans in recent years, either because they were ineffective or even seemed to be having adverse effects, Bloomberg reported. Eli Lilly still has plans to retest such a drug, and Bloomberg said Merck, Biogen and Roche Holding are also still pursuing the amyloid line of treatment.

But Eli Lilly and others are now championing the possibilities of an Alzheimer’s treatment that targets a different mechanism of the disease: another protein called tau, which also gets wrapped up in patients’ brain cells.

AbbVie and TauRx Pharmaceuticals are in the process of conducting human trials for tau-blocking drugs, Bloomberg said. The persistence of funding for future drug trials could rest in the results of the current trials, whether tau-blocking, amyloid-blocking or otherwise.

Even as the research community pulls back and forth between the significance of the two proteins, the approximately five million Americans who currently suffer from the disease could benefit from an entirely different treatment altogether, according to a new study published in Diabetelogia.

A drug approved (BACE1) for treating type 2 diabetes could be useful in slowing down cognitive decline related to Alzheimer’s, according to the European study. That’s because the two diseases are closely related, especially in elderly patients.

The study said it’s possible it’s not just type 2 diabetes that causes Alzheimer’s—but perhaps Alzheimer’s can cause type 2 diabetes. The Alzhimer’s patient’s changing brain could make it more difficult for the body to handle glucose. The fix to the glucose-regulators in the brain through the BACE1 drug also helps break up amyloid proteins.