Plea To Resume Alzheimer’s Research

Susan Page
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Wednesday - February 07, 2007
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Man is a creature of hope and invention, both of which belie the idea that things cannot be changed. - Tom Clancy

Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a tragic, incurable brain-deteriorating disease affecting 4.5 million - mostly senior - Americans (and increasing rapidly in number). The name alone makes me shudder. I’ve seen its debilitating, demeaning effects on loved ones, making it hard to cling to hope.

But now there’s reason to hope.

Late last month, researchers in Florida announced that a patch used in drug trials to clear Alzheimer’s brain-damaging beta amyloid (AB) protein plaque in mice is safe and effective.

Then, at the July 19, 2006, 10th International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders (ICAD) in Madrid, Spain, another drug, Leuprolide acetate, was touted as promising for those with mild or moderate Alzheimer’s. Manufactured by Voyager Pharmaceutical and used for more than 20 years to treat prostate cancer, endometriosis and uterine fibroids, Leuprolide’s potential with Alzheimer’s was discovered when, while a man with dementia was being treated for prostate cancer, his dementia began improving.

But money - or lack thereof - can do in even the most potentially exciting medical breakthroughs, which is what happened to Voyager’s trials. Ironically, Alzheimer’s disease alone costs American business an astounding $61 billion a year (Alzheimer’s Association report) in healthcare, caregiver and absenteeism costs, yet funding these studies isn’t an urgent priority.

This past Christmas, I received a long letter from a friend, Jane, whose husband, Bob, 65, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2004. She shared that in early 2006 Bob joined a national clinical trial administered by a Honolulu hospital. At last her long despair had given way to hope. In this double blind study (no one knew who got the drug or placebo) starting last April, Bob was given the drug Leuprolide acetate (or placebo) implant every two months and testosterone gel (or placebo) applied daily to shoulders and upper arms. Jane had carefully detailed Bob’s prior behavior to a doctor and social worker to determine a baseline.

She wrote, “In less than a month’s time, it was obvious that Bob was less confused, more alert and more social - perking up! Friends commented that he was getting sharp. Soon I noticed hair growing on his upper back. Aha! No doubt about it, he must be receiving the real drug and the real testosterone.”

After seven-and-a-half months in the trials, more exciting news: “Bob’s mental test scores - a lower score being the better one - improved from 20 to 7. His progress was amazing.” Then, the bad news. In November, the trials were cancelled. Investors didn’t have enough faith in Voyager’s Phase II trial results, without waiting for results from the differently administered Phase III study Bob was in. Jane was devastated, yet still hopeful. She’s now writing letters seeking help to restart the trials and get Leuprolide on a fast track to the masses.

When a loved one has Alzheimer’s, treatment can’t come fast enough. My mother had the disease - her worst fear come true. Brilliant and intellectual, she honed her mental skills her entire life by studying, engaging in debate, playing bridge, working crossword puzzles and reading challenging literature.

“I never thought I’d lose my mind,” she said with characteristic bluntness after diagnosis, then joked, “I can think of plenty of friends I thought would, but never me.” She bravely fended off many effects of the disease with the help of the drug Exelon, but still succumbed to memory loss, both short and long term. And despite retaining her quick wit, the ever-present confusion stole her peace. She left my sister and me behind last July to despise this disease and wonder why a cure is taking so long. With funding, the cures will come.

Voyager continues to seek investment money to restart the clinical trials. If you’re interested, go to

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