Meet the Little-Known Biotech and Its CEO Going After Alzheimer's Hard

Clinical Drug

In the world of Alzheimer’s disease research, the names of some companies attempting to find an efficacious therapy stand out. Names like Biogen, Merck and Eli Lilly are well known in the space. Alzheimer’s research companies seem to become known more often than not due to repeated trial failures.

Researchers are delving the pathology of the disease and whether or not it is driven by a buildup of amyloid plaque or tau bundles. Beta-amyloid has gained a lot of attention with Biogen’s continued clinical work on aducanumab and Lilly’s solanezumab, which failed in a Phase III last year. But another area of research, brain tangles, which are twisted tau proteins that cause cells to die, are also being explored. Lilly has a program in place, as does Bay Area Denali  which this week inked a deal with Takeda Pharmaceuticals that could be worth up to $1 billion for a tau program. Another company, Switzerland-based AC Immune, is also diving headlong into tau research.

In an interview with LaBiotech, Andrea Pfeifer, co-founder and chief executive officer of AC Immune, outlined her commitment to developing an Alzheimer’s disease therapy. AC Immune is working in partnership with Genentech to develop crenezumab. That anti-tau program for patients with prodromal or mild Alzheimer’s is in Phase III.

In her talk with LaBiotech, Pfeiffer noted that one challenging aspect of running a trial for Alzheimer’s patients is how much of the drug is needed in the brain to have an effect on the disease. She said a higher dose administered into a patient increased the percentage of the drug that ultimately goes into the brain.

“…the biggest challenge in developing an Alzheimer’s drug is perhaps delivering drugs in a high enough quantity to the brain,” Pfeiffer told LaBiotech.

Additionally, AC Immune has several tau programs in its pipeline including ACI-35, an anti-Tau vaccine in Phase Ib. That drug is being developed in partnership with Janssen Pharmaceuticals. In partnership with Piramal Imaging, AC Immune is developing PI-2620, a Tau-PET imaging agent. The company also has its own in-house treatment Morphomer Tau, a small molecule in pre-clinical development. In addition to crenezumab, AC Immune and Genentech are developing RO7105705, an anti-Tau monoclonal antibody, in Phase II.

At the end of 2017, AC Immune hosted an event to show off insights into tau research and why it is so critical for Alzheimer’s. The meeting featured presentations that highlighted the importance of tau as a therapeutic target in Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. The meeting also included an overview of AC Immune’s pipeline and strategy to address neurodegenerative diseases.

Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are a growing healthcare concern. In the United States, Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death across all ages and the fifth-leading cause of death in people over 65 years of age. By 2050, the number of global patients is expected to hit 131.5 million.

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