The media have widely reported on a recent study showing that Targretin, an FDA approved drug for treating skin cancer, was effective in clearing amyloid plaques from the brains of mice. Given that the presence of amyloid in the brain is a pathological hallmark of Alzheimer's disease, many were optimistic about the potential for a new treatment.
Alas, the scientific process of duplicating results before accepting them as valid, is an important step in generating new knowledge. In this case, three attempts to duplicate the original findings have all failed. That is to say, no other lab has been able to show a reduction of amyloid in the brains of mice treated with Targretin.
The original study with the positive result was conducted at Case Western University Medical Center and published in the journal Science. In its latest edition, the same journal published a technical comment describing the negative results in three other labs.
Lot's of things that seem obvious, turn out to be either counter-intuitive, or surprisingly complex. For this reason, we often apply scientific methods to "obvious questions". It is a means of verifying that our expectations are actually grounded in fact.
A recent study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, looked at how green spaces affect our state of mind. The small study has gotten a fair amount of coverage in the press and, in some regards, investigates a fairly obvious question.
The research looked at brain activity, as measured with mobile electroencephalography, on 12 subjects as they walked through three distinct environments: a shopping district, a park, and a business district. The findings showed that the subject's brains were least "engaged", or more suited to meditation, in the park environment. Additionally, subjects showed evidence of being more engaged, excited, and frustrated, while passing through the shopping and business districts.
On one hand, it seems obvious that a more tranquil environment allows the brain to disengage and become more reflective. On the other hand, it is always reassuring to demonstrate scientifically that an obvious conclusion is supported with empirical evidence.
My take-away? Maybe a small effort to give the brain a short rest, by dampening down all the stimulation of a busy urban life, is a useful and re-energizing break for the brain. Take a walk in the woods if you can, and cut through the park whenever possible -- your brain might appreciate the break.
A few weeks ago, we wrote about the glimmering ray of hope that had emanated from bad news about potential new Alzheimer's treatments.
Both Bapineuzumab and Solanezumab, the two most progressed new drugs in the development pipeline, had both failed the final stage of their respective clinical trials, and would not be approved by the FDA. However, there was some evidence, and much speculation, that both drugs had shown signs of efficacy in secondary data analyses.
Now, as presented at the American Neurological Association's 2012 annual meeting earlier this week, those secondary analyses have been verified and a newfound optimism has swept the field.
Of course, drug approvals require a massive investment of time and money, and drug companies must always weigh the costs of completing that high risk process, against the benefits they might capture during the few remaining years of the drug's patent life, once the process is completed and the drug is commercialized.
Readers might be surprised to learn that drug companies sometimes abandon effective drugs, if the approval process takes too long and the viable (patent protected) period for recouping their investment is too short. This is the decision that Eli Lilly (Solanezumab) and Pfizer (Bapineuzumab) must now face as they consider the time and cost of next steps to bring these drugs to market.
At this point, there are two encouraging signs that each company might push forward and lobby the FDA for an efficient path to near-term approval. One is that the Federal government, under the National Alzheimer's Prevention Act, is committed to identifying new treatments for this disease. The other, is that the Wall Street analysts, ever pessimistic about success of new AD drugs, have pushed Lilly's stock price upwards in the wake of this new information.