2 Stocks Closing on an Alzheimer's Cure

08/13/2012 8:15 am EST

Focus: STOCKS

While we haven't found a cure, drug companies and researchers are edging closer to an answer to this mysterious but prevalent disease, reports Michael A. Robinson of Era of Radical Change.

We got news last week from Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and Pfizer (PFE) about their clinical trials for what many hoped would become a knockout Alzheimer’s drug.

The compound would have become the first to fully address the steady decline in memory the disease causes. But new tests showed the drug simply didn’t work. No doubt this was a setback for the firms, who sunk millions of dollars into developing the drug. And it’s truly disappointing for millions of current Alzheimer’s patients and their families.

But I don’t think we should be worried. As I see it, this is a setback, not a fatal flaw. Remember, no road to victory follows a straight path.

And this field is moving so quickly that a new drug—or novel therapy—could come along any day now to provide relief to the 5 million Americans who have this disease closely associated with aging.

After all, we are living in the Era of Radical Change, a period like none we’ve seen before. We see hundreds of important breakthroughs in high tech and biosciences every year. The pace of change comes so fast no one person on earth can begin to understand what it all means.

But I do know this: Some of the brightest minds in the world are working to combat the memory loss and dementia brought on by Alzheimer’s, as well as to find an outright cure.

I’ve been interested in this field for more than 30 years, since I took a class on aging while getting my honors economics degree. And in just the last few weeks alone, I’ve read about several exciting new finds. Let’s take a look...

Alzheimer’s Advance No. 1: Amyloid-Defeating IV Treatment
Consider the new drug from Baxter International (BAX). Doctors say four patients who received the highest doses in trials showed no decline in memory or thinking skills. Of course, that’s too small a sample to predict success at this point. But the results wowed experts attending a global industry meeting last month.

Patients receive this drug, Gammagard, through an IV. Technically, this type of drug is known as an immune globulin, and is often to referred to as IVIG. It’s distilled from donated blood. The Associated Press says half a dozen companies already sell IVIG to treat problems with blood and the immune system.

These antibodies may also help remove amyloid, the sticky plaque that clogs patients’ brains and erodes memory and clear thinking.

Baxter intends to test Gammagard on 400 patients and have the results within a year. If the substance works as many believe it will, it could be huge. So far, those patients who have tried it love it.

“I feel that I haven’t gone down, and that’s good,” says Jason Marder, a 70-year-old New Yorker. “I feel good. I’m very independent.”

His wife Karin sounds even more thrilled: “He has slowed down, no question about it. His walk is a little slower, but that could also have a lot to do with age. He’s still the Jason that I married. He’s still there. We still have a wonderful relationship together. I’m grateful for every day that he’s independent.”

And who knows… we may not even need to take “drugs” at all.

Alzheimer’s Advance No. 2: Fighting the Disease with Nutrition
You see, also last month, a clinical trial at MIT found that a “cocktail” of nutrients known as Souvenaid—and taken as a drink—can improve memory for those with an early form of Alzheimer’s.

Souvenaid is a mixture of three naturally occurring compounds found in a healthy diet—choline, uridine, and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (you get them by eating meat, nuts, eggs, fish, and flaxseed). Researchers said Souvenaid combats Alzheimer’s by stimulating the growth of new synapses, which, among other things, pass signals from one brain cell to another.

No one knows when health officials might approve Souvenaid, or when it would come to market. But it will likely hit Europe first. Souvenaid comes from the health-care division of Danone (DANOY), a food firm known in the US as Dannon (you probably know them for their yogurt).

Meantime, July brought another Alzheimer’s breakthrough.

Alzheimer’s Advance No. 3: Earlier Detection
Scientists said they can build a “timeline” of the disease long before symptoms appear.

To do so, a team at Washington University School of Medicine looked at families with a genetic risk. Some 128 subjects received blood and spinal fluid tests as well as brain scans and a check of their cognitive skills. Researchers said they saw clear signs of how Alzheimer’s progresses as much as 25 years in advance.

Another team was able to use walking patterns to identify cognitive decline and help with early diagnosis. In two studies—at the Mayo Clinic and the Basel Mobility Center in Switzerland—researchers used a computer to measure the stride length, cadence, and speed of participating walkers at two visits 15 months apart. Changes in a person’s gait were an early predictor of cognitive decline. This is the first time doctors were able to link a physical symptom to Alzheimer’s disease.

Here’s the thing: Getting early signs of Alzheimer’s will help doctors provide better care for their patients. It also means that new drugs could begin combatting the disease much earlier, say at age 40.

That gives investors like us a double play. We buy stock in a company that sells a product to patients for many years. And by getting rid of this scourge, we really will be able to enjoy our Golden Years after all.

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