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UPDATE 2-Roche drops Alzheimer drug trials after setback

John Miller

* Says to halt two late-stage clinical trials of crenezumab

* Says committed to ongoing clinical studies in Alzheimer's

* Roche was working on crenezumab with AC Immune (Adds background about failed trials, share expectations)

ZURICH, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Roche Holding will halt two late-stage clinical trials of its crenezumab drug for early Alzheimer's disease after an interim analysis indicated it was unlikely to hit its primary goal, the Swiss drugmaker said on Wednesday.

The announcement by Roche, which has been working on the product with Swiss-based partner AC Immune, marks the latest high-profile failure of Alzheimer's disease drugs following the 2016 flop of an experimental medicine from Eli Lilly, among others.

These failures have undermined conviction in the so-called beta amyloid treatment hypothesis, in which a protein forms plaques in the brain and is believed to play a pivotal role in the disorder.

Roche said an Alzheimer's Prevention Initiative (API) study of crenezumab in familial Alzheimer's disease in Colombia would continue and that it remained committed to ongoing clinical studies in Alzheimer's disease, including separate phase-III trials with gantenerumab and a phase-II anti-tau trial that seek to tackle the debilitating brain-wasting sickness.

AC Immune Chief Executive Andrea Pfeifer said the company was "extremely disappointed" by the news, adding that she was still hopeful the study in Colombia -- focusing on cognitively healthy individuals with a genetic mutation who are at risk of developing Alzheimer's disease -- would turn out more positively.

Roche shares were indicated 0.8 percent lower, premarket indicators showed.

AC Immune shares are expected to fall sharply when they begin trading.

Alzheimer's is a compelling target for drugmakers as the affected population increases, but treating the disease has proven elusive.

Last year, Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca Plc discontinued late-stage trials testing their Alzheimer's treatment, joining a slew of drugmakers to stop developing treatments for the memory-robbing disease.

Experimental Alzheimer's drugs have had a dismal track record, with more than 100 failures.

Johnson and Johnson also stopped mid-stage trials testing prospective medicines. (Additional reporting by Michael Shields; editing by Maria Sheahan and Jason Neely)