Roche, Lilly drugs chosen for Alzheimer's trial

Experimental drugs from Roche Holding AG and Eli Lilly & Co have been selected for a global Alzheimer's disease prevention trial, and a second Lilly drug is being considered for inclusion in the study, Washington University said on Wednesday.

The trial, expected to begin in early 2013, will enroll 160 patients with inherited gene mutations that typically lead to Alzheimer's disease at a young age, the St. Louis university said on Wednesday.

The drugs chosen for the study are Roche's gantenerumab and Lilly's solanezumab. Under consideration is an experimental Lilly drug called a beta-secretase inhibitor.

Researchers in August said solanezumab failed to prevent decline in cognitive and physical function among patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's in two large late-stage studies.

But hopes for the drug were revived a bit on Monday when Lilly said an analysis of pooled data from the two studies showed solanezumab led to a 34 percent reduction in memory decline for patients with mild symptoms over a period of 18 months. It said the change was statistically significant.

Solanezumab, a monoclonal antibody, attacks beta amyloid, a protein that forms plaques in the brain that many scientists believe are a main cause of the progressive memory-robbing disease.

Some industry analysts expect Lilly to seek marketing approval of solanezumab based on the mixed trial data, but others say the Indianapolis drugmaker would have to complete a large costly new trial among patients with mild symptoms to win approval.

Shares of Lilly, up more than 7 percent since the pooled data were unveiled on Monday, were down 1.6 percent in morning trading. Shares of Roche were 1 percent lower amid a moderate decline in the ARCA Pharmaceutical Index of large U.S. and European drugmakers.

Washington University, in a press release, said the Lilly beta-secretase inhibitor, now being tested by the company in mid-stage studies, is designed to reduce the amount of beta amyloid proteins produced by the body, thereby slowing the accumulation of brain plaques.

(Reporting By Ransdell Pierson; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and John Wallace)