A Pfizer Drug Showed Signs It Could Prevent Alzheimer’s, But the Research Was Canceled

The drug appeared to help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by 64 percent

A Pfizer drug might be able to treat Alzheimer's. (Mario Tama/ Getty)
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Researchers at the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer made an astonishing discovery about the company’s rheumatoid arthritis drug, Enbrel, in 2015: It appeared as if the medication could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 64 percent. But after several years of internal debate and discussion, Pfizer heads decided not to investigate further or begin a costly clinical trial.

Those same scientists in the company’s division of inflammation and immunology estimated that the trial would’ve cost about $80 million, The Washington Post reported, to see if the “signal” detected in some patients was legit enough to market the drug as an Alzheimer’s treatment. Swelling and inflammation in the brain has been linked to the degenerative disease.

“Enbrel could potentially safely prevent, treat and slow progression of Alzheimer’s disease,” an internal PowerPoint document obtained by the Post read.

Pfizer told the newspaper that it took three years to debate the potential benefits of Enbrel and that it “did not show promise for Alzheimer’s prevention because the drug does not directly reach brain tissue,” and therefore, in their opinion, made the trial not worth the hassle.

But some scientists outside the company disagree and believe that studying Enbrel’s potential in preventing Alzheimer’s could provide clues as to how to slow the disease’s progression. Those outside of the company also believe Pfizer should, at the very least, release its data for others to take a look at.

“Of course they should. Why not?”’ said Rudolph E. Tanzi, a leading Alzheimer’s researcher and professor at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.

“It would benefit the scientific community to have that data out there,” added Keenan Walker, an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins who is studying how inflammation contributes to Alzheimer’s. “Whether it was positive data or negative data, it gives us more information to make better informed decisions.”

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