Where Others Failed, a Vaccine for Dementia Shows Potential in the Clinic

04/04/2017 - 3 minutes

AXON Neuroscience has presented positive clinical results for its Alzheimer’s vaccine and announced a new trial to extend its use to other forms of dementia.

Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, are rapidly expanding due to an aging population. No disease-modifying treatments are available yet, pushing research from biotech and pharma, which are avid to tap into this growing market.

However, most efforts to date have faced failure. Last December, the giant drugmaker Eli Lilly abandoned its Alzheimer’s candidate solanezumab after a failed Phase III trial, which has led researchers worldwide to reconsider the potential of current approaches, most of which target amyloid beta plaques.

The Slovak biotech AXON Neuroscience is tackling the disease from a different angle, by directing its efforts against the tau protein instead. At the International Conference on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s in Vienna last week, the company announced results from its ongoing Phase I trial for the vaccine AADvac1, which has already progressed into Phase II.

axon neuroscience dementia vaccine tau protein

The trial has revealed that the vaccine can indeed elicit the production of antibodies against pathological tau protein in patients with Alzheimer’s, which could stop or slow down the progression of the disease. The results also indicated that the vaccine could have potential in additional forms of dementia, such as corticobasal degeneration (CBD) or progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP).

In light of this promising data, AXON has announced a new Phase I trial will be started in the second quarter of 2017, testing the vaccine in patients with the non-fluent variant of Primary Progressive Aphasia (nfvPPA), a condition that affects the ability to process language. The new trial will be run in cooperation with the German FTLD Consortium.

AXON is not the only one approaching dementia from the angle of tau proteins. TauRx, in Scotland, is running a Phase III trial with a promising drug candidate that has been shown to dissolve tau protein bundles in Alzheimer’s. “Our research shows that there’s a much clearer correlation between the extent of tau accumulation in the brain and dementia [than amyloid beta plaques],” told us Tim Earle, COO of TauRx. 

Where big pharma has failed, presumably for going after the wrong target, biotech seems to be striving with innovative approaches. The technology from companies like AXON Neuroscience and TauRx might soon reach the market and provide a solution for patients with no access to effective treatments. However, since previous efforts have faced failure in late development stages, these new approaches still have to prove that they’re up to the expectations.

Images from Veronika Che /Shutterstock; LM Ittner et al., Nat Rev Neurosci. 2011 Feb;12(2):65-72


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