Alzheimer's drug shows promise in early study results

Shares of Biogen and other drugmakers researching Alzheimer’s disease soared early Wednesday after Japan’s Eisai Co. said its potential treatment appeared to slow the deadly disease’s progress in a late-stage study.

Eisai announced the results Tuesday night of a global study of nearly 1,800 people with early-stage Alzheimer’s.

The drugmaker said early results showed its treatment, lecanemab, reduced a patient’s clinical decline by 27% compared to a placebo or dummy drug after 18 months of infused treatment. The patients were monitored using a scale that measures how they are doing in areas such as memory, judgment, problem solving and self-care.

Eisai Co. Ltd. said it would discuss the full results of the investigation at a conference in late November. It also plans to publish its findings in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

The company is already seeking expedited approval from the US Food and Drug Administration, with the agency expected to decide early next year. Eisai and Biogen will co-promote the drug.

Initial results appear to be “pretty strong” and will likely support regulatory approval, Graig Suvannavejh, an analyst at Mizuho Securities, said in a research note.

A statement from the Alzheimer’s Association called the findings the most encouraging to date for possible treatments of the underlying causes of the disease.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive neurological disease with no known cure. Long-standing treatments on the market only control symptoms, and researchers don’t fully understand what causes the disease.

Last year, Biogen’s Aduhelm became the first new Alzheimer’s drug introduced in nearly two decades. But it largely flopped after debuting at a price of $56,000 annually, which Biogen later cut.

Doctors have been hesitant to prescribe it, given weak evidence that the drug slows the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Insurers have blocked or restricted coverage due to the drug’s high price and uncertain benefit.

Like Aduhelm, lecanemab, which Eisai developed and conducted in clinical trials, seeks to remove a protein called beta-amyloid from the brain.

But Eisai executives say lecanemab targets more of the protein’s floating clumps before it forms a plaque, which is what Aduhelm is targeting.

Eli Lilly and Co. is also developing a potential treatment, donanemab, that helps remove the protein.

Shares of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Biogen Inc. rose more than 50% in premarket trading on Wednesday morning to break above $300. Shares had fallen heavily since Aduhelm’s debut last year.

Shares of Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co. rose 8%.

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