The European market for drugs to treat Alzheimer's disease (AD) is set to grow from a value of $1.80 billion in 2012 to $4.78 billion by 2019, increasing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.1% during the period, according to new forecasts.

By 2015, the patent expiry of all existing drugs approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for treatment of AD is likely to cause a steep decline in the growth of this market in Europe. However, the approval of next-generation therapies that can delay progression of the disease and restore cognitive functions are expected to revive opportunities in the market from 2015 to 2018, according to the study, from Frost & Sullivan.

"Increasing R&D activity and a strong pipeline of disease-modifying drugs bode well for market expansion," comments Aiswariya Chidambaram, a senior research analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

"Considerable unexplored opportunities and the commercial goldmine that is the AD medication market have motivated several pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to invest in R&D, particularly targeting the moderate-to-severe patient group," she adds.

Existing drug classes for AD offer poor therapeutic efficacy, and the core focus of new R&D approaches has therefore centred on novel disease-modifying drugs, the report points out.

"These drugs are expected to offer potential benefits over conventional therapeutic options, as they are safer, more effective and aim to prevent or slow down disease progression rather than provide just symptomatic relief. Therefore, these new drugs are expected to command premium prices and fuel market growth," Ms Chidambaram forecasts.

A key challenge at present is the looming patent expiries on a number of key blockbuster AD drugs, including Pfizer/Eisai's Aricept (donepezil), Novartis' Excelon Patch (rivastigmine) and Lundbeck's Ebixa (memantine). As these treatments lose their patent protection, a flood of cheaper generic versions will be unleashed that will result in lowered market revenues, says the study.