World’s First Alzheimer’s Vaccine Trial Begins

AC Immune, a privately-held biotech based in Switzerland, has launched the world’s first trial of a vaccine against a protein believed to cause Alzheimer’s disease.

The drug, known as the ACI-35 vaccine, is designed to stimulate the body’s immune system to produce antibodies which target the tau protein.

This protein is believed to form in the brain and create ‘tangles’, and is one of two main theories on the causes of Alzheimer’s.

The second is the so-called amyloid hypothesis, which is also a protein believed to create a build-up of plaques in the brain.

AC Immune is also conducting mid-stage trials with AXI-35 to see if it can help with patients believed to have a build-up of the amyloid protein.

In fact pharma has predominately been working with the amyloid theory when developing new medicines, but those working on tau have become more prominent given a slew of recent amyloid drug failures over the past 18 months.

Although the world’s first Alzheimer’s vaccine study, AC Immune is certainly not alone in seeking to find the root cause of the disease as bigger firms such as Roche, Eli Lilly, Merck & Co and Johnson & Johnson are also looking for preventative medicines.

AC Immune’s most advanced Alzheimer’s drug is the anti-Abeta antibody crenezumab, which it licensed to Roche’s subsidiary Genentech in 2006. Results of a Phase II trial of crenezumab are expected in the first half of this year.

“At the moment we are keeping all options open,” chief executive Andrea Pfeifer told Reuters, adding that the company would consider an initial public offering in the US as an option to gain more financing.

AC Immune said it had just this week completed a fourth round of financing, raising 20 million Swiss francs ($22 million) from existing investors, most of which will go toward its new study.

But beyond Phase I testing should it go that far, it will require far more capital. Pfeifer said the company would be open for a partner to advance ACI-35 into later-stage trials in order to shore up funding.

Despite the firm having a promising number of drugs in development for the disease, Pfeifer said it was difficult to predict when one could be on the market.

“I would say however that in the next three to five years there should be a medication for Alzheimer’s out there and hopefully it could be one of ours,” she said.

Over the past 15 years more than 100 experimental Alzheimer’s drugs have failed in tests, including those for Lilly, Pfizer and Janssen.

But the goal is certainly worth striving for as industry analysts believe that a truly effective drug could be worth around $10 billion in peak annual sales.

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