Alzheimer's Vaccine
Makers Say It Is Safe
By Lisa Richwine
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A company developing a possible vaccine to treat Alzheimer's disease said on Tuesday that early results from the first tests in humans showed the product appeared safe for people.
Officials with Elan Pharmaceuticals said they do not yet know whether the vaccine will prove effective at stopping Alzheimer's disease. They said they hope to begin tests on its effectiveness by the end of 2001.
``What we can say is the vaccine was well-tolerated,'' Dale Schenk, Elan's vice president of discovery research, told reporters at a meeting of the World Alzheimer Congress.
Results of the company's trials are being closely watched with the hope that the vaccine could provide the first treatment to halt the advance of Alzheimer's or even prevent the disease, which affects 4 million Americans. Three drugs now on the market offer only limited relief of symptoms, which include memory loss and difficulty with speaking and coordination.
Alzheimer's is the leading cause of dementia in the elderly. Without a cure, experts are predicting a possible epidemic of 22 million people worldwide with Alzheimer's by the year 2025.
The goal is to use the vaccine, known as AN-1792, to stimulate the body's immune system to destroy the waxy plaques that build up on the brains of Alzheimer's patients. Scientists do not know exactly how Alzheimer's develops, but they theorize that the plaques kill neurons and impair function.
Test results released last year from studies of mice showed the vaccine prevented plaque from forming on the brains of young rodents or stopped further plaque growth in older animals.
The researchers cautioned they still are working to determine whether the vaccine would have the same effect on people. ``That ultimately is going to require more clinical trials,'' Schenk said.
Patients in the early safety studies, taking place in the United States and Britain, had mild to moderate forms of Alzheimer's. The patients were given a single dose of the vaccine, and researchers spotted no significant side effects so far, Schenk said.
The safety studies are ongoing. Elan Pharmaceuticals, a division of Irish firm Elan Corp. (ELN.N), is conducting clinical trials in partnership with American Home Products Corp (AHP.N).
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