Alzheimer’s drug failure spurs job cuts, reflects enormous challenge of finding treatment

NIH budget cuts National Institutes of Health grantsJohnson & Johnson’s (NYSE:JNJ) move to lay off 130, mostly from its Janssen Alzheimer Immunotherapy division, follows a failure of the Alzheimer’s drug bapineuzumab in phase 3 clinical trials.

The New Brunswick, New Jersey-based pharmaceutical giant had been developing the drug with Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and Elan (NYSE:ELN).

The layoffs hit its South San Francisco-based Janssen Alzheimer Immunotherapy the hardest, according to the report by Pharmalot. The pharmaceutical news blog cited a state notice for the layoffs. It follows the decision by the drugmaker to discontinue development of bapineuzumab in cases of mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Janssen Alzheimer Immunotherapy also has offices in Dublin, Ireland.

The disappointing results with bapineuzumab were the latest in a series of setbacks in developing drugs to treat the disease. About 5.4 million people have Alzheimer’s disease; it’s the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. Pharmaceutical companies have struggled to come up with an effective treatment that would at least slow the progression of the disease.


Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY) has had mixed results with its Alzheimer’s disease program. In 2010, it halted clinical trials on its drug semagacestat after preliminary phase 3 results showed that it was having a negative impact on patients’ health and was accompanied by a heightened risk of skin cancer. But in August, Lilly said it would continue to advance its drug solanezumab despite mixed results from phase 3 trials. Although it failed to meet the primary endpoints in two, double-blind placebo-controlled phase 3 clinical trials, the pooled data showed some evidence of slowed cognitive decline.

At the start of the year, Pfizer said the development of its licensed drug dimebon had ended after a 12-month study failed to show that the drug could outperform a placebo. It had been developing the drug with Medivation since 2008.

Myriad Genetics halted the development of Flurizan after the drug’s performance in phase 3 clinical study failed to show that it could improve cognition by a statistically significant amount compared with a placebo.



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