So Eli Lilly is going to double down on solanezumab, their antibody treatment for Alzheimer’s that did not show impressive results in earlier trials. The company is going into an even bigger Phase III, with a more carefully selected patient population, in hopes of showing a benefit.
Yikes. On one level, I sort of admire this – it’s a decision that takes a lot of nerve to make, will cost a huge amount of money, and is attacking one of the most intractable clinical problems we have. But on that ever-present other hand, what are the odds? If I’m an investor in Lilly stock, am I happy about this move, or not? The only thing I can see to calm the nerves this time, if there’s such a thing in an Alzheimer’s clinical trial, is better diagnostic criteria from the start:
Eric Siemers, senior medical director of Lilly’s Alzheimer’s program, said an estimated 25 percent of patients in the two earlier Expedition trials might not actually have had beta-amyloid deposits or Alzheimer’s disease, so solanezumab could not have helped them.
He said many patients were enrolled in those trials on the basis of symptoms, without undergoing sophisticated diagnostic procedures now available to confirm the presence of beta-amyloid deposits.
In the new study, Lilly’s recently approved radioactive imaging agent, called Amyvid, will be used to screen patients, Siemers said. Biochemical measures in the spinal fluid can also help assess whether patients have Alzheimer’s, he said.
I’ll say this for them: this trial, you’d think, is going to be the answer. It’s going to cost hundreds of millions by the time it’s all over, but by gosh, Lilly (and the rest of us) should know if solanezumab is of any use in Alzheimer’s. Unless, of course, another bath of equivocal coulda-maybe-worked numbers come out of this one, too. But that’s also an answer. Under these conditions, “sort of worked” is going to mean “did not work”. I don’t see what else is left.
And given Lilly’s patent positions and sales forecasts, it looks like they are, to a significant extent, betting the company on this. Drama, this industry could do with less drama. But we seem to be stuck with it.