January 10, 2008

Alzheimer's Research Breakthrough and the RI Economy

Marc Comtois

Take this with a grain of salt--it's early research after all--but there may have been a substantial breakthrough in Alzheimer's research:

A drug used for arthritis can reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer's "in minutes".

It appears to tackle one of the main features of the disease - inflammation in the brain.

The drug, called Enbrel, is injected into the spine where it blocks a chemical responsible for damaging the brain and other organs.

A pilot study carried out by U.S. researchers found one patient had his symptoms reversed "in minutes".

Other patients have shown some improvements in symptoms such as forgetfulness and confusion after weekly injections over six months.

The study of 15 patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer's has just been published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation by online publishers Biomed Central.

The experiment showed that Enbrel can deactivate TNF (tumour necrosis factor) - a chemical in the fluid surrounding the brain that is found in Alzheimer's sufferers.

When used by arthritis sufferers, the drug is self-administered by injection and researchers had to develop a way of injecting it into the spine to affect the brain cells.

Sue Griffin, a researcher at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said: 'It is unprecedented to see cognitive and behavioural improvement in a patient with established dementia within minutes of therapeutic intervention.

'This gives all of us in Alzheimer research a tremendous new clue

about new avenues of research.' Enbrel is not approved for treating Alzheimer's in the U.S. or the UK and is regarded as highly experimental, said Dr Griffin.

'Even though this report predominantly discusses a single patient it is of significant scientific interest because of the potential insight it may give into the processes involved in the brain dysfunction of Alzheimer's,' she added.

Lead author of the study Edward Tobinick, of the University of California and Director of the Institute for Neurological Research, said the drug had 'a very rapid effect that's never been reported in a human being before'.

He added: 'It makes practical changes that are significant and perceptible, making a difference to his daily living.

'Some patients have been able to start driving again. They don't come back to normal but the change is good enough for patients to want to continue treatment.'

For any who have been effected by Alzheimer's, this could be great news. What does this have to do with Rhode Island? The manufacturer of Enbrel--the drug used in the study--is Amgen and the drug is made right in her in its West Greenwich plant. The same facility has experienced a rough patch lately as Amgen attempted to make up for losses other areas by implementing cost-cutting measures (read: job cuts) here in Rhode Island (it appears to have worked). This new use for an established drug could mean an economic boon to the company and perhaps--eventually--more jobs here in Rhode Island.

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Hi Marc;
This is so ironic. My wife Linda and I live about 30 minutes from that Amgen plant and have been discussing the Anbrel treatment with Dr. Tobinick's Institute for Neurological Research, currently the patent holder for the injection technique. The therapy involves weekly injections that are only available in Los Angeles at the INR clinic. Bummer. Move to LA? Commute? My wife at 51 is severely affected by early onset Alzheimer's and no longer speaks, reads or writes, performs any normal tasks, and oh yeah... fully incontinent. Other than that she is lean and healthy and goes for 2 mile walks 3 or 4 days per week as long as you hold her hand so she won't wander off or get lost. This new technique may turn back the clock a year or two, but we are running out of time. Her MMSE was 16 out of 30 2 years ago, and is now 0 to 1. Not much left to lose.
Making an extended move out to LA for weekly treatment is an option, but a very difficult and costly one on top of the $30,000 estimated annual cost (uncovered by insurance, since it is an off-label usage).
We have been following all the forums and boards we could find since the story broke in January.

There are very exciting personal posts from actual caregivers of patients trying this treatment. They have given us the first glimmer of hope to postpone a death sentence. Of special note was the posting from Cathy in CA whose father, a former physician was again able to read after 6 -8 months of being unable to.
What we need is available treatment in our region .
With 5,100,000 Alzheimer's victims in the USA alone, Amgen should be more supportive of this treatment. This notice on their website is dismissive and contradictory to the apparent results posted from users and Dr. Griffin, an editor at Journal of Neuroinflamation.


Enbrel treatment for Alzheimer's would also give RI a big boost in jobs and Amgen a big profit increase.
And just maybe give me my wife back.
Bob Lee

Posted by: Robert Lee at February 10, 2008 5:32 PM
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