Bay Area lab researches Alzheimer's drug

August 19, 2008 7:25:27 PM PDT
A Bay Area company believes it may be on the verge of one of the first effective treatments for Alzheimer's Disease. But the drug itself was not originally designed to fight Alzheimer's -- but allergies.

For decades, Alzheimer's patients like Karen Henes, who was recently diagnosed, have had little to look forward to beyond the inevitable mental decline.

"It's tough. I can't do the things I used to do, used to see my Grandchildren, play with the kids, be responsible. I can't do that now," said Henes.

But now, a drug called Dimebon is being tested by a company in the Bay Area. It is showing promising results in slowing and perhaps even reversing the symptoms.

"We showed that Dimebon improved all key aspects of Alzheimer's, including thinking, memory behavior and overall function," said CEO Medivation David Hung.

Dr. David Hung is the CEO of San Francisco based Medivation. He says the drug was originally approved as an antihistamine, when doctors in Russia noticed its effect on Alzheimer's.

He traveled to Russia to examine research into the effect.

"Dimebon inhibits brain cell death and improves function of the mitochondria, the energy part of the cell," said Dr. David Hung.

Research suggests the Dimebon can benefit on Alzheimer's patients across the board. In a phase two clinical trial, the drug prevented deterioration in both moderate and severely affected patients.

Patients taking the drug three times a day also showed improvement in mental function.

"I was pleasantly surprised to see the effects on cognitive function, on memory, on activities of daily living," said Dr. Sam Gandy from the Alzheimer's Association.

The drug moves into phase three trials this spring. If successful, it could win FDA approval within two years, and bring hope to millions of Alzheimer's patients like Karen.

Other promising result from the phase two trials, researchers say the control group taking Dimebon kept improving a year into the study. Now, that contrasts with some older Alzheimer's drugs, which only show effect for a few months.


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