Researchers at CU Anschutz are working on another promising drug in the race to find a cure for Alzheimer's.
They are joining doctors around the world, at more than a hundred test sites, to speed the testing of the drug Aducanumab.
9NEWS has been following the efforts at CU Anschutz for many months. Aducanumab is now in field trials in more than 360 locations, which wouldn't be happening if the results so far had not been very encouraging. In fact, the work on Aducanumab may be coming to a very hopeful conclusion.
"This study has been going on for two to three years, and will probably continue for at least another year," said CU Anschutz Researcher Jonathan Woodcock.
That length of time actually represents hardly the blink of an eye in terms of difficult drug research. Aducanumab is designed to reduce or eliminate Amyloid plaques that collect in the brain, a condition believed to be a primary driver of Alzheimer's.
Woodcock said initial studies were promising.
"The early studies that mostly had to do with whether it was safe in humans showed some promise, and it was decided to go ahead with a very large trial to see whether or not it was effective," Woodcock told 9NEWS.
And perhaps most importantly is that during these trials, the drug so far has not produced a lot of undesirable health consequences for the test subject. That's an encouraging result for researchers like Woodcock in what has been a long and often difficult process.
"It is a very long journey and this is a positive step in that this trial has been going on as long as it has," Woodcock said. "There's been no indication to stop it for instance because of bad side effects."
Some patients from Colorado are involved in the trials. They are subjects who had to meet a very strict criteria.
"So we're looking here for people who have been diagnosed with probable Alzheimer's disease, who have very early symptoms. We call that mild cognitive impairment or mild dementia," Woodcock said.
Specifically, Aducanumab is an antibody in everyone's system that scientist are harvesting from healthy elderly patients who show no signs of cognitive impairment and then injecting it into patients who do have cognitive impairment.
Aducanumab and a second drug undergoing trials at CU Anschutz called Leukine both hold great promise in research that has so far produced enormous disappointment.
The Alzheimer's Association says cancer is now the only disease that Americans worry more about being diagnosed with than Alzheimer's disease. Aging baby boomers have the Alzheimer's Association worrying that the number of people in the U.S dealing with Alzheimer's is going to skyrocket from 5.4 million today to 7.1 million people by 2025, and to 13.8 million people by 2050.
Such an increase would destabilize the public health system and take a huge toll on families and caregivers. Last year, for example, the Alzheimer's Association says families and friends spent more than 18.1 billion unpaid hours caring for Alzheimer's disease patients. If these caregivers were paid just $12.25 an hour, their efforts would be valued at a staggering $221.3 billion.
Despite this care and spending, there are still no treatments proven to curb this disease. Research into developing therapies to slow this disease has been a failure. The Alzheimer's Association finds that between 2002 and 2012, just one of 244 Alzheimer's disease drugs that were evaluated in clinical trials went on to win FDA approval.
Sadly, during roughly that same period, the number of deaths attributed to Alzheimer's disease increased 7.1 percent.
But Woodcock said he remains optimistic that at last we may be on the right path. "We've learned a great deal, even from our past failures. And I am optimistic we'll have an answer to this puzzle even in my lifetime," he said.
Someone new is diagnosed with Alzheimer's every 60 seconds.