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‘Stop Alzheimer’s testing on animals’

Published on 22/05/14 at 08:07am
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Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline and Merck are investing $230 million to help identify new biological targets for Alzheimer's

Animals should not be used for Alzheimer’s research according to a new paper, because scientists should instead be looking at human biology-based tools.

Dr Gill Langley, senior science adviser to Humane Society International, says that work with laboratory mice and rats is a case of “studying the wrong condition in the wrong animal”.

Instead, the paper that was published in Drug Discovery Today and timed to coincide with Dementia Awareness Week – insists: “It’s time to move dementia research into the 21st century.”

She writes: “If we want to improve our chances of cracking this debilitating brain disease, we must embark on a new research roadmap that applies the very latest research tools to study the processes involved in the development of Alzheimer’s.”

Her point is that various techniques – for example, patient-derived human brain cells in culture, powerful neuroimaging machines and computers combining multiple data to reconstruct disease pathways – can now map Alzheimer’s to understand why and how it occurs.

“These advanced techniques will allow a complexity of understanding of this uniquely
human disease never before achieved using animal models,” she says.

At present the standard approach is to use transgenic mice – that is, mice with inserted faulty human genes – yet Langley argues that since our brains differ in genetics, proteins, chemistry and physiology, this produces only “a few symptoms similar to the real disease”.

“Despite a decade of effort using genetically modified mice, more than 300 potential treatments have been successful in animals but not a single one has proved effective in human patients,” she points out.

“With one and a half million people in the UK alone projected to have Alzheimer’s in the next 40 years, continuing to focus on failing animal models is a waste of time and resources that is simply unsustainable,” Langley goes on.

Pharma might find her thoughts interesting since analysts believe that a truly effective Alzheimer’s drug could be worth around $10 billion in peak annual sales – but whether the industry is ready for what Langley calls a ‘fundamental paradigm shift’ in R&D remains to be seen.

A G8 summit at the end of 2013 set the challenge of making Alzheimer’s preventable by 2025 and, even though there is currently no cure, there is a great deal of activity in this therapy area.

In January AC Immune launched the world’s first trial of an Alzheimer’s vaccine, ACI-35, which is designed to stimulate the body’s immune system to produce antibodies which target the tau protein. 

Meanwhile pharma companies including GlaxoSmithKline, Merck and Pfizer are investing $230 million to help identify new biological targets for the disease in a five-year collaboration co-ordinated by the US government’s National Institutes of Health.

And in March, Eisai and Biogen Idec linked up to look for new Alzheimer’s treatments, and said they will develop and commercialise two of the Japanese firm’s clinical candidates, E2609 and BAN2401.

Adam Hill

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