Dr. Seabrook, in constant pursuit of innovative neuroscience, shares why he’s upbeat about the future of Alzheimer’s disease treatment.
Alzheimer’s disease has been confounding the scientific community for decades. Multiple late-stage clinical trials for potential treatments have failed to produce the results they needed to move forward, challenging elements of the amyloid hypothesis pursued by the majority of the field. Meanwhile, as our population ages, the number of patients diagnosed each year accelerates. Without a treatment, healthcare costs for Alzheimer’s are projected to triple by 2050, exceeding $1.1 trillion.
The urgency of this situation is not lost on Guy Seabrook, Ph.D., Vice President, Global Lead Neuroscience External Innovation, based out of the Johnson & Johnson California Innovation Center. Dr. Seabrook and his external innovation team are scouring the World for emerging science that could yield new treatments for Alzheimer’s; he’s also on the lookout for technology that can help detect the disease earlier or otherwise improve quality of life for patients and caregivers.
In advance of World Alzheimer’s Day on Sept. 21, Dr. Seabrook provided a glimpse into his hunt for Alzheimer’s therapies and shared why he’s hopeful that the drug landscape will be changing for the better.
Many people are disheartened by the prospects for treating Alzheimer’s, yet you proclaim to be an optimist. Why is that?
I certainly don’t want to underestimate the challenges we face, but I believe we’re heading towards a Renaissance in terms of our understanding of Alzheimer’s disease. Our knowledge of the underlying cause of the disease grows every year, generating more insights into where and when we can intervene. We’re also seeing key stakeholders — including academia, government, the pharmaceutical industry and philanthropic organizations — working together in a very constructive manner to achieve a common goal. Investments are being made, and new collaborations are being forged. We’re building a rich ecosystem in which new discoveries will blossom. One recent example of this is Janssen’s collaboration with Australia’s St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, which leverages the expertise of Professor Michael Parker, one of Australia’s leading structural biologists.
As someone who’s immersed in the latest science surrounding Alzheimer’s disease, what are some of the developments that excite you most?
One of the biggest breakthroughs over the past few years has been our increased understanding of human genetics and the gene mutations that increase a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease. This information could lead to effective therapeutics as well as diagnostic tests to enable early detection, and thus allow earlier intervention. I believe one day we will approach Alzheimer’s similarly to how we detect and treat heart disease today. With heart disease, we can predict risk by measuring things like cholesterol levels and then we prescribe a preventative medication, such as statins – we don’t wait until they have a heart attack first before taking action.
Our better understanding of the genetics of Alzheimer’s has implicated a new key player: the immune system. More than half of the genes that increase Alzheimer’s disease risk involve the innate immune system, a striking finding. This is very early research, but it opens up an entirely new, non-amyloid approach we haven’t fully explored yet. I predict an explosion of discoveries linking the immune system and Alzheimer’s disease, which could yield important new therapeutics.
Why is early detection important for Alzheimer’s disease?
An individual whose loved one passed away from Alzheimer’s disease once told me: “…by the time we realized the severity of the disease, we had forgotten to say goodbye.” Those words continue to resonate with me today. Early detection would not only help improve outcomes, it would grant invaluable time to patients and their families.
What is Janssen currently working on in Alzheimer’s?
We are studying the three hallmarks of the illness – amyloid plaques, tau tangles, and synaptic recovery in the brain. By concentrating on these targets, we hope to find ways to slow disease progression or prevent the disease from leading to dementia and also to potentially recover brain function. We are using a variety of approaches including small molecules, antibodies, and therapeutic vaccines in order to provide Alzheimer’s disease therapeutics across the globe. In addition, we have many scientific partnerships in this area, and we are working with governments and nonprofit organizations to address the economic and social impacts as well.
Are you advancing a unique approach to treating or detecting Alzheimer’s disease? We’d love to hear about it. Contact us.