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USF to host tests of new Alzheimer’s drug

USF has been selected to host a study that, if successful, could be a tremendous step forward in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

The Suncoast Alzheimer’s and Gerontology Center (SAGC) has been selected to participate in a study testing a new drug that could slow and possibly prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, which affects 50 percent of Americans over 85 years old and ten percent of those over 65, according to SAGC Assistant Director Amanda Smith.

Myriad Genetics, Inc. is testing Flurizan, a drug that is designed to reduce the formation of beta amyloid proteins in the brain. According to Myriad, these proteins form plaque in the brain that ultimately lead to Alzheimer’s. The disease causes a decline in cognitive ability, speech, motor skills and recognition people and time. It is believed to be the leading cause of dementia.

Smith said that this drug is very different from any currently offered.

“What is exciting about this drug is that it has the potential to affect the disease process by preventing the formation of the plaques,” she said. “The drugs on the market right now slow down symptoms, but not the disease in the brain.”

Only patients with mild Alzheimer’s are eligible for the study, which is determined by cognitive testing. They must also be in good health and be able to stay on stable doses of the required medicines.

The study will last 18 months. During the period, participants will be placed on either Flurizan or a placebo. They will be compared for progression in cognition, the ability to do daily activities such as bathing and dressing, and monitored for behaviors such as depression and delusion.

There is also an 18-month followup in which those who were taking Flurizan will continue to do so as long as they show improvement.

The study is double-blind, meaning neither the participants nor their doctors will know which pills each patient is taking. Only the sponsor, Myriad, will know which participant is taking which medicine, and it will choose whether to release the information when the study is finished.

There are early hopes that Flurizan will not only halt the progression of Alzheimer’s in patients who already have the disease, but also eventually stop the disease from affecting patients who are at risk.

Smith said it is too early to say how the drug will perform, but the data from earlier studies is encouraging. She predicts the drug could reach the market in the next four or five years.

The SAGC was chosen by Myriad based on its track record for enrolling people in previous studies. The center was established in 1980 and is a part of the College of Medicine.