Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease that results in the death of brain cells and is characterized by a gradual loss of cognitive function (e.g. the ability to think, remember and reason). The ability to perform day-to-day activities is also diminished with a relentless deterioration until death. Symptoms usually emerge after the age of 60 although people with certain rare genetic mutations may develop the disease earlier.
An estimated 36 million people worldwide are affected by dementia and this number will increase steadily as the population ages. By 2030, it is estimated that 66 million people will be affected and by 2050 the projection is 115 million. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 50-75 percent of cases.
It is not known what causes the cells in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s to die but there are characteristic changes in the brain that are suspected of being involved. Roche is investigating a next-generation approach to treating people with Alzheimer’s by looking more closely at beta-amyloid.
Beta-amyloid is a protein that can build up in the brain and induce the formation of plaque between nerve cells. In a healthy brain, these beta-amyloid formations are naturally decomposed and neurons are not damaged but in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s this build up of plaque hinders communication between nerve cells.
Roche’s gantenerumab targets these beta-amyloid proteins and helps dispose of the formations. It has been chosen for an independently coordinated clinical trial in relation to Alzheimer’s disease prevention by Washington State University in St Louis.
The aim of the trial to verify whether gantenerumab can potentially decrease the chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease among patients identified as at risk. The trial will include 160 patients from multiple regions with inherited gene mutations that are typically present in Alzheimer's disease. A positive outcome of this study may help prevent Alzheimer's disease in larger populations.
Detecting and diagnosing
Alongside the development of gantenerumab, Roche is working hard to improve the ability of healthcare professionals to identify Alzheimer’s at as early a stage as possible.
Recent scientific publications have evidence that a new generation of biomarker would be of real medical value for healthcare professionals. In a clinical trial called Scarlet Road, researchers from Roche measured specific levels of the participants’ spinal fluid with a new biomarker that has the potential to aid identification of those patients with very early stage Alzheimer’s – so that they can then be treated with gantenerumab.
These new biomarkers are only at research stage but scientists are committed to developing reliable and sustainable ways to detect and diagnose as early as possible – even in those people who aren’t even showing any Alzheimer’s symptoms.