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Report: Baxter Alzheimer's Treatment Working

Baxter Immune-System Treatment Progresses In Patients: Alzheimer's treatment works to improve thinking, cognitive function and reduce brain shrinkage [Chicago Tribune]

From Chicago Tribune (IL) (April 14, 2010)

Apr. 14--An immune-system drug produced by Baxter International Inc. helped preserve "thinking" abilities and reduced the rate of brain shrinkage in a small group of patients with Alzheimer’s disease who have been studied for 18 months, new research released Tuesday shows.

As the pharmaceutical industry continues its search for drugs that could mitigate the effects of Alzheimer’s, Baxter’s Gammagard showed in a study of 24 patients that it is among those treatments working well enough to warrant continued testing. The Deerfield-based company will expand its research to more than 350 patients in a final-stage U.S. clinical trial. If the final-stage trial is successful, Baxter could submit the product to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration within two to three years, analysts have said.

The study revealed that 16 of 24 patients had better cognitive response and related improved memory function, showing significantly "less decline in their overall function and thinking abilities" than eight Alzheimer’s patients on a placebo, according to the data presented by researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College in New York at the American Academy of Neurology meeting in Toronto. The research looked at patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease who had uninterrupted treatments once or twice a month for 18 months.

Researchers said the use of magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, of patients’ brains provided an independent measure showing "less whole-brain atrophy." The typical brain of an Alzheimer’s patient shrinks three to four times faster than a healthy older adult’s brain, as a consequence of accelerated brain cell death, researchers said.

"I don’t think anybody debates that when Alzheimer’s disease progresses, the brain shrinks," Dr. Norman Relkin, a professor of neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, said in a telephone interview from Toronto, where he will present the study Wednesday.

Though MRIs have been used to measure brain shrinkage in the study of potential treatments for Alzheimer’s, such studies often do not cover such a lengthy period of time.

"Past Alzheimer’s disease studies that used MRI measures found no change or an accelerated rate of brain shrinkage after investigational treatments," Relkin said.

Researchers eventually hope Gammagard, a biologic derived from plasma, can change the course of the disease. The idea behind the drug is that it can help the body’s immune system to clear the brain of amyloid, a sticky, plaque-like substance thought to be key in the development and progression of Alzheimer’s.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, which affects nearly 5 million Americans, and the number is rapidly rising.

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Posted: April 2010