Lilly Alzheimer’s Drug Misses Goals; Results Still Promising

A treatment for Alzheimer's disease from drugmaker Eli Lilly yielded promising signs in late-stage research, even though the drug failed to slow mental decline in two separate studies of patients with mild-to-moderate cases of the mind-robbing condition.

Eli Lilly & Co. corporate headquarters stand in Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S., on Monday, May 21, 2012.
Victor J. Blue | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Indianapolis drugmaker's shares climbed in pre-market trading Friday.

Alzheimer's disease has no cure, and many patients typically live four to eight years after diagnosis, as the disease gradually erodes their memory and ability to think or perform simple tasks.

Eli Lilly said Friday its treatment, solanezumab, failed to slow mental or cognitive decline in two late-stage studies. But combined data from both trials showed a statistically significant slowing of cognitive decline, as did a subgroup of patients with mild cases of the disease. Cognitive function involves memory.

Lilly said it will discuss the results with regulators and plan the next steps.

Current Alzheimer's treatments only temporarily ease symptoms such as memory loss, confusion and agitation. They don't slow, stop or reverse mental decline.

Drugmakers have tried and failed for years to develop successful treatments for the disease, and patients and doctors are anxious for any signs of promise. Analysts have said an approved treatment that slows the disease's progression could be worth billions of dollars in sales.

Earlier this month, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson said they will end development of an intravenous version of their potential Alzheimer's treatment, bapineuzumab, after two late-stage studies showed it worked no better than a placebo in patients with mild-to-moderate cases.