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Alzheimer Dis Assoc Disord. 2002;16 Suppl 1:S29-32.

Barriers to Alzheimer disease drug discovery and development in the biotechnology industry.

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Schering-Plough Research Institute, Kenilworth, New Jersey 07033-1300, USA.


The major barrier to Alzheimer disease (AD) drug discovery and development in the biotechnology industry is scale. Most biotechnology companies do not have the personnel or expertise to carry a drug from the bench to the market. Much effort in the industry has been directed toward the elucidation of molecular mechanisms of AD and the identification of new targets. Advances in biotechnology have generated new insights into disease mechanisms, increased the number of lead compounds, and accelerated biologic screening. The majority of costs associated with drug development are in clinical testing and development activities, many of which are driven by regulatory issues. For most biotechnology companies, the costs of such trials and the infrastructure necessary to support them are prohibitive. Another significant barrier is the definition of therapeutic benefit for AD drugs; Food and Drug Administration (FDA) precedent has established that a drug must show superiority to placebo on a performance-based test of cognition and a measure of global clinical function. This restrictive definition is biased toward drugs that enhance performance on memory-based tests. Newer AD drugs are targeted toward slowing disease progression; however, there is currently no accepted definition of what constitutes efficacy in disease progression. Despite these obstacles, the biotechnology industry has much to offer AD drug discovery and development. Biotechnology firms have already developed essential technology for AD drug development and will continue to do so. Biotechnology companies can move more quickly; of course, the trick is to move quickly in the right direction. Speed may offset some of the problems associated with lack of scale. Additionally, biotechnology companies can afford to address markets that may be too restricted for larger pharmaceutical companies. This advantage will have increasing importance, as therapies are developed to address subtypes of AD.

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