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AstraZeneca, Novo Pursuing Alzheimer's as Metabolic Disease


- By Barry Cohen

The last three categories of drugs being studied for Alzheimer's are metabolic approaches, stem cell and gene therapies and alternative medicines. The first four were reviewed previosly, with the most popular approach being aimed at the physical changes (amyloid/tau) in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.

Diabetes is a metabolic disease, so some scientists speculate that Alzheimer's is really the third type of diabetes, according to FierceBiotech. That's because some forms of Alzheimer's seem to be related to insulin resistance, the main problem in type 2 diabetes. Research has shown that people with this form of diabetes have a greater risk of getting Alzheimer's or dementia.

Based on this hypothesis, researchers are examining the role established diabetes and cardiovascular drugs could play in Alzheimer's. In addition to a study at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, The University of Kansas is testing the AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN) diabetes drug Farxiga in a small group of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's. Imperial College London is doing the same with a well-established type 2 diabetes therapy sold by Novo Nordisk (NVO).

Besides the drug-based approach to Alzheimer's, there's a school of thought that high-tech therapies based on stem cells and viral vectors can be used to introduce new genes into patients' cells, FierceBiotech reported. The belief is that stem cells can grow into neurons, and so they have the potential to repair the degenerative brain damage caused by Alzheimer's.

Working in this area is Korean biotech Medipost Co.(XKRX:078160), which earlier this year completed a phase 2a trial of its Neurostem MSC therapy derived from umbilical cord blood. Early results show the therapy eliminates amyloid in some patients, but longer follow-up will be needed to determine other effects.

Meanwhile, Voyager Therapeutics Inc. (NASDAQ:VYGR) is in the early stage of a collaboration with AbbVie Inc.(NYSE:ABBV) on a therapy that would produce "vectorized" anti-tau antibodies in the brain.

In the category of alternative therapies, Cortexyme Inc. (NASDAQ:CRTX) is taking what many consider an unorthodox approach--a treatment that targets an infection in the brain. The company thinks the infection might cause the degenerative symptoms of the disease.

An effective treatment for Alzheimer's would be a godsend. But some health care systems aren't waiting around for that to happen. They think simple changes in lifestyle, like exercise and cognitive stimulation, could be effective.

Digital apps and devices that can detect the earliest symptoms are being evaluated, and last year Eli Lilly and Co. (NYSE:LLY), Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Evidation Health presented information suggesting that iPhones, Apple Watches and other consumer devices could help identify people with mild cognitive impairment or dementia.

Disclosure: The author has a position in Eli Lilly.

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This article first appeared on GuruFocus.