Previous efforts to treat Alzheimer's have focused on a single target — usually the protein called beta-amyloid, says Maria Carrillo, chief science officer of the Alzheimer's Association. "The one-target approach is probably not going to be the answer," Carrillo says.
Instead, several teams of scientists reporting their work at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Washington D.C. this week are targeting a process in the brain that leads to toxins involved in several different diseases.
The biotechnology company Treventis is working on one of these potential drugs.
"Our ultimate goal is to discover a pill that can be taken once a day that could either stop or slow Alzheimer's disease," says Marcia Taylor, the company's director of biological research. Treventis hopes to do that with a drug that prevents the build-up of two toxic proteins.
These toxic substances, called beta-amyloid and tau, are the result of a process that begins when a healthy protein inside a brain cell somehow gets folded into the wrong shape.
"Sometimes it gets what I call a kink," Taylor says. Then, when the misfolded protein meets another protein floating around in the cell, "It kind of grabs onto that protein and they both kink up together," she says.
That can trigger a chain reaction that produces clumps of misfolded beta-amyloid and tau proteins that damage brain cells.
"And our compound — because it targets protein misfolding — is actually able to prevent both beta-amyloid and tau from making these clumps," Taylor says. The compound works in a test tube and is currently being tested in animals, she says.
Another potential new treatment could help people with Parkinson's and a disease called Lewy body dementia, as well as those with Alzheimer's. npr