Home HEALTH At last, a drug to slow down Alzheimer’s

At last, a drug to slow down Alzheimer’s

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Three decades after the presumed cause of Alzheimer’s disease was identified, a Japanese company little known outside of the pharmaceutical industry has become the first drugmaker to prove the debilitating condition can be slowed.

Eisai Co, a Tokyo-based pharmaceutical company with a family bent and market capitalisation of $14 billion, crossed the finish line before behemoths valued nearly 20-fold higher, including industry leaders Roche Holding AG and Eli Lilly & Co. The results of its Clarity-AD trial this week showed the medicine it’s developing with Biogen, lecanemab, curbed the most common type of dementia – a breakthrough more than 100 years after the disease was discovered.

The discovery took years of struggle amid a slew of setbacks, including the high-profile implosion earlier this year of another Alzheimer’s drug the two companies developed together. Along the way, Eisai faced unrelenting questions about the hypothesis that treating the buildup of amyloid plaque in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients could slow the disease, a theory that seemed less likely with the failure of each high-profile rival.

On Wednesday in Tokyo, chief executive Haruo Naito was unequivocal that Eisai has silenced the doubters: “After 30 years, lecanemab proved that the patient’s condition can be improved by removing amyloid beta,” he said. The results “prove the amyloid hypothesis.”

Analysts and investors were buoyant as well, though approval and pricing issues remain. Eisai closed at 17% higher at 6,784 yen Wednesday, the largest gain in more than a year. Biogen, which remains a partner and will reap half the profits, soared 71% in early trading. “We finally have what we believe to be a clean win in Alzheimer’s disease,” Evan David Seigerman, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets, wrote in a note to clients. “The top-line data is as strong as can be, with high statistical significance across all endpoints — data doesn’t get much cleaner than this in biotech.”