Drugmakers have tried and failed for years to develop successful treatments for Alzheimer's, and patients and doctors are anxious for something that can slow its progression.
Solanezumab was one of three potential Alzheimer's drugs in late-stage testing. Bapineuzumab, being developed by Pfizer Inc. and Johnson & Johnson's Janssen Alzheimer Immunotherapy unit, gave disappointing results in two studies last summer.
A pivotal study of the third -- Gammagard, by Baxter International Inc. -- will wrap up at the end of this year. Results are expected in the first or second quarter next year.
Solanezumab binds to beta-amyloid protein, which scientists believe is a key component to sticky plaque that basically gums up the brain of a patient with Alzheimer's disease. The drug is designed to help the body remove the protein from the brain before it can form that plaque.
Current treatments like Pfizer Inc.'s Aricept try to control symptoms of the disease. Analysts have said a treatment that does more than manage symptoms such as memory loss, confusion and agitation could be worth billions of dollars in annual sales. But drugmakers first have to spend a massive amount on testing and clinical development to produce such a drug.
"When you go for the blockbuster, you have to pay for the blockbuster, either in money or time," WBB Securities analyst Steve Brozak said regarding Lilly's announcement.
More than 35 million people worldwide have dementia, a term for brain disorders that affect memory, judgment and other mental functions. Alzheimer's is the most common type. Many Alzheimer's patients typically live four to eight years after diagnosis, as the disease gradually erodes their memory and ability to think or perform simple tasks.
In the United States, 5.4 million people have Alzheimer's, which is the country's sixth-leading cause of death. The number of Alzheimer's patients in the U.S. is expected to jump to 16 million by 2050, and costs for care are expected to skyrocket.AP Chief Medical Writer Marilynn Marchione in Milwaukee contributed to this report.