AstraZeneca and the Mental Health Research Institute in Australia have linked up to develop new ways of identifying Alzheimer's patients at early stages of the disease.

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker said researchers will aim to find out whether testing cognition at short intervals (ie every one to three months) over an eighteen-month period, will make it possible to identify individuals “just at the point at which they are beginning to suffer cognitive decline as a result of AD”. Judith Jaeger, director of neuroscience early clinical development at AstraZeneca, said that “we urgently need to find new ways to identify those at risk of developing AD before they begin to experience symptoms”.

In addition to developing “a novel approach to diagnosing cognitive decline”, she noted that the firm hopes the collaboration with “the world-class researchers at the MHRI will provide insights that aid our search for new treatments and ways to prevent disease progression”. Paul Maruff, from the Melbourne-based institute, said the “repeated application of a set of brief and simple cognitive measures could therefore help to identify accurately the point when the onset of Alzheimer's disease was imminent”.

Prof Maruff added that this could “ultimately lead to a more personalised approach with more effective treatments being given to the right patients at the right time”. The study will be conducted in conjunction with The Australian Imaging, Biomarker & Lifestyle Flagship Study of Ageing.

AD’s growing burden of care and costs
Meantime, Elan Corp and Wyeth have presented information at the Alzheimer's Association meeting in Vienna on the growing burden of care and costs associated with the disease and how to measure them.

One of the studies looked at 133 AD patients/caregiver pairs showed an exponential relationship between total costs and dependence levels. The latter provides “a useful method to estimate unique levels of care and associated costs that can be used in pharmacoeconomic evaluations of new treatments for AD patients in a transparent and meaningful manner”, the companies said.

Another analysis noted that while more than 26 million people worldwide are estimated to have AD, an updated model suggests that global prevalence of the disease can be expected to increase to over 100 million by 2050. Elan and Wyeth, who collaborate on the Alzheimer's Immunotherapy Programme headed by the investigational compound bapineuzumab, introduced a web-based application which allowed cost estimate calculations on the future burden of AD.