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The Blog of Drug Discovery News

Did President Reagan suffer from Alzheimer’s disease while in office?

ddn has written countless stories about drug discovery and research efforts in the critical area of Alzheimer’s disease, and one area that researchers, clinics and drug manufacturers seem to be focusing on lately is pinpointing the onset of the debilitating disease. For example, in October, we reported on efforts by the Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative (API) to test potential Alzheimer’s treatments and identify new biomarkers that could lead to earlier and more accurate diagnoses for Alzheimer’s patients. Researchers at the API told us that although there are many promising treatments being studied in Alzheimer’s symptomatic patients, by the time most people begin to show symptoms of the disease, it has already ravaged the brain, rendering these treatments ineffective.

This cold, hard reality has been making headlines lately with the release of a new book, “My Father at 100: A Memoir,” a close-up account of the life of President Ronald Reagan as seen through the eyes of his son, Ron Reagan. The book, which came out a few weeks shy of what would have been the former president’s 100th birthday on Feb. 6, is “an exploration of his character,” Ron Reagan says, but addresses the ongoing question of whether his father suffered with Alzheimer’s while in office.

President Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in August 1994 at the age of 83, and he informed the nation about his diagnosis in a handwritten letter later that year. Although President Reagan’s White House doctors said they saw no evidence of Alzheimer’s while he was president, there was during his time in office widespread speculation that he demonstrated symptoms of mental degeneration. For example, former CBS White House correspondent Lesley Stahl wrote in her own memoir that at her final meeting with President Reagan in 1986, “Reagan didn’t seem to know who I was.” The president regained his alertness at the end of the meeting, Stahl wrote, adding, “I had come that close to reporting that Reagan was senile.”

Ron Reagan writes that that he noticed evidence of dementia as early as President Reagan’s first term. “I felt the first shivers of concern” during the 1984 reelection campaign, he writes, “that something beyond mellowing was affecting my father. My heart sank as he floundered his way through his responses. He looked tired and bewildered.” By 1986, President Reagan “had been alarmed to discover, while flying over the familiar canyons north of Los Angeles, that he could no longer summon their names,” his son writes.

Still, as he hits the press junket, Ron Reagan is careful to say that we cannot know for certain whether President Reagan exhibited signs of Alzheimer’s during his presidency. He also asserts that he believes if Reagan had gotten the diagnosis during his two terms, he would have stepped down.

In this video with TV personality Joy Behar, Ron Reagan clarifies his characterization of his father’s illness in his book.

“One can deduce that the disease must have been present, but I say specifically that I saw no dementia-like signs when he was in office,” he tells Behar. “Let’s recall that this was the oldest president ever elected (President Reagan was in his 70s). By the time he’s reaching his mid-70s, he’s losing his hearing, he’s been shot and nearly killed—which will take a little of the wind out of your sails—and of course I am worried about him all the time, because it’s a very tough job with a lot of stress. Every once in a while I would see—almost like when you are watching television, and it momentarily goes out of focus and snaps back. You think, ‘what did I just see?’ But I didn’t know what it was, I just knew I was concerned about him for all sorts of reasons. In retrospect, it’s possible that some of those early things were signs of Alzheimer’s, but I don’t know, and I can’t really make that claim.”

Some of the controversy, Ron Reagan tells Behar, may stem from “the confusion between Alzheimer’s the disease and dementia, which is a symptom of the disease—which usually arrives in the later stages.”

“Knowing what we know now about Alzheimer’s, that it’s a process that extends for years or even decades before symptoms arise, it’s kind of an academic question as to whether the disease was present when my father had” the debilitating disease, Ron Reagan says in this interview.

I think many of the researchers who read our publication would agree. What do you all think of Ron Reagan’s assertions? How does this “academic question” impact efforts to treat, manage or even reverse damage caused by Alzheimer’s?

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January 27, 2011 Posted by | Academia & Non-Profit, Corporate, Labwork & Science | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Report: Cancer diagnostics market could hit $90 million by 2014

In our October issue, we’re continuing our special report series on trends in cancer research. This month, which is the third installment of a five-part series, discusses the challenges and rewards of developing companion diagnostics for cancer treatment.

To view the story, see “Two are better than one.” We also take a look at recent developments in the field of biomarker research in our story, “Biomarkers: How Good a Test Are They?”

Cancer treatment is one area where the era of personalized medicine is arriving, according to market research publisher Kalorama Information. In its recent report, “The Worldwide Market for Cancer Diagnostics,” Kalorama predicts a $90 million market for pharmacodiagnostics, tests that determine whether a treatment matches the individual patient, by 2014.

According to the report, the information gleaned from the Human Genome Project and pharmacogenomics research by the drug industry is making possible individualized drug therapy based on the genetic makeup of a patient. The concept has been talked about for some time, but Kalorama notes in its biennial review of the cancer testing market that with five U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved test and treatment products, including tests for Herceptin, Gleevec, Erbitux and Tarceva, and with many others in development, pharmacodiagnostics has moved beyond the concept phase.

“Personalized medicine is not occurring overnight, but it is occurring,” says Shara Rosen, lead diagnostic analyst for Kalorama Information. “More and more physicians are using these tests, and more pharma companies are getting involved and looking to in-vitro diagnostic (IVD) companies for biomarker tools.”

The report says that while personalized medicine strategies are not new—it’s been eight years that Herceptin package inserts have labeled tests for therapy-responsive patients—the increase in drug and test development points towards greater utilization of these products.

According to Kalorama, histopathology IVD companies Dako, Ventana Medical, Roche Diagnostics and Third Wave Technologies (acquired by Hologic in 2008) lead the market with FDA-cleared tests. Oncotype DX was launched in the United States in 2004, where it has since been adopted as the standard of care for treating early-stage breast cancer. Oncotype DX is recommended in the guidelines of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), and is extensively reimbursed in the United States. Physicians use Oncotype DX to predict the likelihood of chemotherapy benefit, as well as the likelihood of recurrence, for patients with early stage breast cancer, in order to make individualized treatment decisions about the addition of chemotherapy to hormonal therapy.

By 2025, one in five new drugs could be labeled with a companion test, many of which will be cancer drugs, according to Kalorama. Many of the new companion tests are being developed as diagnostic/prescription partnerships. There are scores of these cancer co-development projects underway. Companies such as Qiagen/DxS, MolecularMD and Roche/454 Life Sciences launched CE Marked test kits in 2008 and 2009. These tests are performed using blood instead of biopsied tissue.

Kalorama believes better-than-average growth levels will drive more companies to this area.

“This trend to personalized medicine is expected to create a huge market for cancer diagnostics in combination with the commercialization of the therapy,” Rosen says. “We expect pharmacogenomics, predisposition diagnostics and molecular diagnostics to show 25 to 30 percent annual growth over the next five to 10 years.”

In our November issue, we’ll examine the role of academic research in oncology. You can also view our previous reports:

Getting down to basics

Pharmacogenomics harnesses power of prediction, personalization

The big picture

Let’s work together

October 28, 2010 Posted by | Academia & Non-Profit, Corporate, Labwork & Science | , , , , | Leave a comment

Unintended advantages?

Random odd thoughts are the bane of my existence sometimes. They’ll come visit, and flit in and out of my consciousness for weeks or months like some bug trying to find its way out of the house and buzzing around annoyingly until it can.

Well, this blog will at least finally provide me a place to unload some of those thoughts (as long as they are pharma-related in some way) and eliminate some of those buzzing sounds.

In this case, after posting on our website this story on a genome-wide study of human stem cells, I was reminded of a thought that has been nagging me more and more since the study of adult human stem cells has picked up in recent years and I’ve seen increasing numbers of breakthroughs related to them. And that thought was: Did the bans related to the use of embryonic human stem cells that marked much of the start of the 21st century actually have an unintended positive effect?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not laying down moral judgments about the use of embryonic stem cells in research and perhaps therapeutics one day, and I’m neither defending nor decrying policies against the use of embryonic cells (though I admit I lean heavily toward allowing their use—I understand the value of such cells, as they are much more malleable, if you will, than their adult counterparts. Also, it seems questionable to let embryonic stem cells go to waste over a philosophical argument over abortion).

And yet…

By forcing researchers to have to look harder at adult stem cells instead—regardless of whether the policy was right or wrong—have we perhaps seen more advances in manipulating and understanding adult human stem cells than we would have if access to embryonic cells had been greater?

I don’t really have an answer, but it’s a thought worth considering. Sometimes, even decisions that may be wrong can have positive results that we never expected.

October 20, 2010 Posted by | Government, Labwork & Science | , | Leave a comment