By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The Athlone-based Elan pharmaceutical company is planning to apply to U.S. and European regulatory bodies later this year to test a new drug that may work as a vaccination against Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of senile dementia.
Elan’s researchers have found that immunization can prevent deposits associated with the disease from forming in the brains of genetically engineered mice.
The brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers contain characteristic plaques, or deposits. It is not clear if they are the cause or consequence of the disease.
Details of the possible vaccine breakthrough, which also worked in older mice where plaques had already started to develop in their brains, was revealed in the latest edition of Nature magazine.
An Elan spokesman said that if the trials and tests are successful it would be five years before the drug was available to treat people.
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There are 33,000 people in Ireland suffering from Alzheimer’s and 4 million in The US. A drug that could cut the toll would be a major breakthrough.
There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s. The patients, most of them older than 60, progress from forgetfulness to dementia and usually die five to 10 years after diagnosis.
The 30-year-old company, which has had huge success with developing drug delivery systems, employs 1,100 in Athlone.
The company has been a huge success story since former chairman Don Panoz set up the business in his Dublin back garden 30 years ago with a $60,000 nest egg.