headshot of Daniel M. Skovronsky

Why We’re Optimistic About Alzheimer’s Research

Eli Lilly and Company  | October 20, 2019

This guest article comes from Dan Skovronsky, Senior Vice President of Product and Clinical Development at Lilly. 

A decade ago, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone by saying Apple wanted to “reinvent the phone.” Of course, it did much more than that, revolutionizing what technology means to our lives – and where it can take us. 

 This year also marks the 10th Clinical Trials on Alzheimer’s Disease (CTAD) conference, currently taking place in Boston. The meeting brings together worldwide leaders to discuss new results and issues important to the development of the next generation of treatments for this devastating disease. Spending nearly 30 years in the lab conducting clinical studies, Lilly scientists are among those leaders. 

And similar to the iPhone, the work we do today in Alzheimer’s was not even conceivable when the first CTAD meeting took place in 2007. While it is disappointing to analyze trials that have not been successful, each time we do, we learn a great deal and are able to apply those critical insights to subsequent studies, further advancing the science. Here at Lilly, we are committed to continue leading in the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and are optimistic we will have meaningful ability to either prevent or significantly delay the onset of the disease within the next 10 years. 

New Knowledge Yields New Approaches to Research 

With each clinical trial, we gain an invaluable amount of knowledge about the disease. Scientists are significantly expanding how and what they are researching. Within the last few years, we’ve learned earlier is better and we are pleased to have six different treatments in our pipeline which focus on early intervention. We are starting to look at Alzheimer’s disease more like cancer – fatal and progressive – and treat it as early and aggressively as we can. Our ability to detect Alzheimer’s pathology earlier and earlier provides us with a great window for prevention, and I believe that’s where we’re going to see the most progress over the next 10 years. 

We Are Approaching the Golden Age of Science Innovation 

With an uptick in new science and technologies over the last decade, we are not only understanding more about Alzheimer’s disease, but also have better tools that can help us approach the disease. For example, recent diagnostic advancements such as PET imaging agents have allowed us to better identify Alzheimer’s disease earlier, and track the progression of pathology in patients in our clinical trials. As an industry, we are setting our sights higher to meet those expectations and we can do it because the science is there today.  

A Caregiver’s Role in Clinical Trial Enrollment 

November is both National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness and National Family Caregivers Month, which is fitting as caregivers not only play a crucial role in the daily care of their loved ones but also in encouraging their participation in clinical trials. Of the 10 years it typically takes to develop a new treatment, four years are spent waiting for patients to enroll in clinical trials. If enrollment shortens from four years to four weeks, then the next Alzheimer's disease breakthrough could be four years sooner. If you or your loved one is interested in participating in a clinical trial, please visit TrialMatch®, a free, easy-to-use service offered by the Alzheimer’s Association that matches individuals with current studies in the U.S. and Canada. 

Collaboration Is Key in Advancing the Science 

Some of the best scientific breakthroughs happen through collaboration. Particularly in today’s complex health care environment, we must be innovative not only in our science, but also in the ways we work with scientists outside our walls to complement our internal efforts in finding and developing new medicines. Given the complexity of Alzheimer’s disease, its growing impact on society and the many challenges to discovering new medicines, we recognize we cannot take on this challenge alone. We believe supporting research programs will help further the scientific understanding needed to better determine when and how to treat this devastating disease.