Eagerly anticipated data for Eli Lilly’s experimental Alzheimer’s disease drug solanezumab have raised hopes that the drug could be the first to slow progression of the disease.

In 2012 Lilly said independent analysis of pooled data from the EXPEDITION trials showed that solanezumab slowed cognitive decline by 34% in patients with mild forms of the condition.

Now, new analysis of data from a trial extension show that patients starting treatment in the earlier phases of the disease were mentally ahead of those given the drug after a two-year stint on placebo.

The difference in cognition and function between early-start and delayed-start groups remained statistically significant, the drugmaker said.

Delayed-start methodology

“We are particularly excited about these data because this is the first time the delayed-start methodology has been implemented for an Alzheimer's disease clinical trial,” noted Hong Liu-Seifert, study research advisor at Lilly. 

"This new analytical method enabled us to assess if solanezumab had an effect that is consistent with slowing progression of disease by modifying the underlying disease progression, which, up until now, has not been studied,” he said. 

Finding an effective therapy for Alzheimer’s disease is largely considered the holy grail of research, given that around 44 million people worldwide currently suffer from dementia, a figure expected to more than triple by 2050.

Whether solanezumab - an anti-beta-amyloid monoclonal antibody designed to bust the protein plaques thought to play a pivotal role in the development of the disease - will tick all the boxes remains to be seen. But it is hoped that data from a Phase III due for completion next year will offer up some more definitive answers.