Eisai appoints two execs to lead Alzheimer’s franchise

The move comes less than two months after the high-profile failure of aducanumab, which it had developed with Biogen, and the initiation a day later of a Phase III study of another amyloid beta-targeting drug, BAN 2401.

Following the high-profile failure of what was to be a successful Alzheimer’s disease drug, one of the companies behind it has appointed two executives to bolster its AD business.

Japanese drugmaker Eisai announced Thursday the appointment of Harald Hampel as vice president for global medical affairs and Michael Irizarry as vice president for clinical research. Hampel, a longtime expert in Alzheimer’s, was previously a professor at France’s Sorbonne University, while Irizarry was hired as vice president for clinical research in the company’s epilepsy and sleep disorders business.

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The move follows the announcement in March that Eisai and Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Biogen were halting two Phase III trials of aducanumab, a drug targeting amyloid beta plaques in Alzheimer’s. The drug had been seen as especially promising in the field despite a string of failures of Abeta-targeting drugs because of its strong ability to reduce the plaques. But the studies were halted for futility when the companies determined that despite the Abeta-reducing capability, aducanumab would not likely produce a clinical benefit.

The day after the aducanumab news, Eisai announced the initiation of a Phase III study with another Abeta-targeting drug, BAN 2401.

In its announcement Thursday, Eisai noted that its pipeline of dementia drugs includes agents targeting Abeta, along with tau, neurodegeneration and neuroinflammation. A profile of Hampel on an Alzheimer’s disease research portal notes that his research has included work in areas such as Abeta and tau.

Still, research in Abeta-targeted drugs like BAN 2401 has become somewhat controversial lately due to the number of agents that have failed, a trend only exacerbated by aducanumab’s failure. After the news about aducanumab, and before the BAN 2401 announcement, at least one equity research analyst forecast that BAN 2401 would likely be shelved. Consequently, many investors have moved away from Abeta, seeing it as unlikely to yield a benefit in the majority of patients, even as some researchers have chosen to soldier on.

On Wednesday, Tetra Discovery Partners said it initiated a Phase II study of BPN14770, a drug with a different target, phosphodiesterase-4D, or PDE4D.

Photo: PRNewsFoto/Eisai Inc.