Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, destroys memory and cognitive skills and eventually takes away the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. It is one of the greatest medical challenges today, but biotechnology is offering hope for treatment.
Alzheimer’s is considered the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the National Institute of Aging, though “recent estimates indicate that the disorder may rank third, just behind heart disease and cancer, as a cause of death for older people.”
“Current estimates are that about 5.8 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, including 5.6 million aged 65 and older and about 200,000 under age 65 with younger-onset Alzheimer’s,” according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The CDC also notes that Black and Hispanic people, and women, are at greater risk of contracting Alzheimer’s.
The Alzheimer’s Association declared June Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month to help raise awareness about the disease, to support the millions of people worldwide suffering from Alzheimer’s and to promote the search for treatments and a cure.
Biotech solutions under development
An I am BIO podcast covering the topic of Alzheimer’s describes efforts to find biotech solutions to the disease.
Nolan Townsend, CEO of Lexeo Therapeutics says in the podcast that many current efforts to treat Alzheimer’s “are typically focused on a single pathogenic mechanism … so therefore they may not be treating the totality of the disease.”
Instead, his company takes a genetic approach. He explains that we know people with a certain genetic makeup are much more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. His company’s solution involves gene therapy, to change the genetic makeup of a person’s nervous system and make it like that of a typical person, who has less of an Alzheimer’s risk.
“We’re developing a therapy that we hope to be a functional cure to the disease. A single administration therapy via an outpatient procedure that the patient only needs to be treated with once,” he says.
Another approach being developed is a vaccine, as Mei Mei Hu, CEO and co-founder of Vaxxinity explains in the podcast.
“Our vaccine that’s in the clinic right now targets these toxic amyloid proteins. That’s the initial insult, that’s the beginning of the cascade in Alzheimer’s. And by intervening at that stage, we prevent the further destruction of additional neurons by these toxic proteins,” Hu explains. ”So instead of getting worse by X, you’re slowing that progression by 50%. And by slowing by 50%, you can extend a patient’s quality of life by years.”