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J&J probes Down syndrome, dementia link

CHICAGO--In a new lead on Alzheimer's research, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is bankrolling a three-year pilot study of people with Down syndrome to identify the early changes that herald dementia, which afflicts up to 75 percent of adults with the condition.

The aim is to generate support for a much bigger, public-private partnership funded by drugmakers, advocates and government agencies that will study at least 1,000 people with Down syndrome, tracking them from an early age and eventually testing treatments to keep dementia from developing.

“The study we're proposing would provide insight into treating Alzheimer's, but it might help individuals with Down syndrome as well,” said Dr. Husseini Manji, J&J's global head of neuroscience drug development.

Experts in Down syndrome and Alzheimer's who gathered in Chicago for a workshop on the idea at the Alzheimer's Association offices this month say it may offer the best scientific model yet for testing drugs to prevent the degenerative brain disease.

Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, affecting some 36 million people worldwide. Current drugs only treat symptoms, and none have yet been able to keep the fatal disease from progressing. It has proven a tantalizing prospect for drugmakers, as a success would be worth billions of dollars.

But companies have been repeatedly stung by costly failures, including recent trials of the J&J and Pfizer Inc. Alzheimer's treatment bapineuzumab. As a result, companies and researchers are looking for ways to test Alzheimer's drugs earlier, before people's brains become too damaged to benefit.

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