It’s admittedly not the highest-profile illness being targeted by the biopharma industry’s top developers. Cancer gets that dubious honor. Infectious-disease treatments get the second-biggest share of the pharmaceutical sector’s R&D dollars, followed by autoimmune diseases, then heart disease. Meanwhile, Alzheimer’s and dementia barely register as worthy (read “well-funded”) pursuit for the industry. Alzheimer’s stocks get similarly-lackluster attention from investors.
Just because Alzheimer’s drugs are a priority for the industry at large, however, doesn’t mean there’s no opportunity in the few Alzheimer’s stocks out there. Indeed, in some ways, the fact that so few researchers are taking aim at the illness means there’s outsized — and relatively competition-free –revenue potential for a viable drug in the space. Throw in the fact that the dementia and Alzheimer’s epidemic is expected to explode within the foreseeable future, and what you have something more than investment-worthy.
The $64,000 question is, which stocks are the best Alzheimer’s stocks?
The Alzheimer’s Market Outlook
It’s more than a little ironic when you think about it. Our current healthcare capabilities allow us to live longer, but now that we’re living longer, we’re more apt to develop dementia, or Alzheimer’s. The G8 Dementia Summit being held in London this week concluded the number of worldwide cases of Alzheimer’s could reach 135 million by 2050, up from the current 44 million. For perspective, 12.7 million people (worldwide) are diagnosed with cancer every year, and 7.6 million people die from cancer.
So why isn’t dementia given the same attention and effort cancer is? It’s not that there’s no money in it. In 2012, we spent $10.2 billion – globally — on treatments for Alzheimer’s. No, that’s not a lot, compared to the $110 billion we’re apt to spend on cancer therapies in 2013. Bear in mind, however, that we spent that $10 billion on Alzheimer’s drugs we knew weren’t likely to help much, if at all.
See (and this may be the real reason an Alzheimer’s/dementia drug isn’t a priority for the pharmaceutical industry), despite studying it for years, medical researchers still aren’t entirely sure what causes the disease. It was only a few years ago that scientists largely concluded Alzheimer’s was the result amyloid plaque building up in the brain, so much that it breaks the needed connection between nerve cells. Since then, some have begun to think it’s heavy exposure to metals like aluminum or iron that cause the disease. Still others think Alzheimer’s is simply caused by oxidative stress.
Meet the Next Generation of Alzheimer’s Stocks
Fortunately for drug developers, they don’t have to know exactly how their drug works to win the FDA’s approval. They only have to prove that it is safe and more effective that current drug choices. Those choices are Aricept, from Pfizer (PFE), Namenda from Forest Laboratories (FRX), and Exelon, from Novartis (NVS). All three drugs are each well over a decade old though, and not exactly thrilling choices … but they’re the only options out there.
But they won’t be for long…
Being well known isn’t a key to lasting success in this arena, though. In fact, there are three Alzheimer’s stocks worth a much closer look because of their underlying companies’ compelling new research, even if an actual marketable drug is years away:
- Prana Biotechnology (PRAN): Though PB2 is only in Phase 2 trials as a treatment for Alzheimer’s, the results Prana Biotechnology has produced so far are exciting. While PB2 keeps amyloid plaque at the center of the drug-development effort, it’s taking the idea one step further. Prana Biotechnology’s researchers believe naturally-occurring zinc and copper in synapses reacts with beta amyloid proteins to become toxic. PB2 returns those synaptic metals to neurons before they get a chance to spark the creation of amyloid plaque.
- Sangamo BioSciences (SGMO): It’s only in Phase 1 testing right now, but CERE-110 from Sangamo could be a game-changer in the war on Alzheimer’s. The therapy delivers a nerve-growth factor — a therapeutic protein — to the brain’s nerve cells that would otherwise be destroyed by Alzheimer’s usual effects.
- Johnson & Johnson (JNJ): It’s certainly not a pure Alzheimer’s play, and even if it were, it would be years and years away before a drug was formulated from the idea. But, with the recent acquisition of German company Evotec, Johnson & Johnson now has a potential handle on the genetic causes and indications for Alzheimer’s disease. Knowing which genes are turned on or off for these dementia sufferers is the groundwork for developing a preventive treatment.
It’s worth noting that Alzheimer’s drug solanezumab, from Eli Lilly (LLY), already failed, and it was focused on the reduction of the beta-amyloid plaques found in many Alzheimer’s patients. Meanwhile, bapineuzumab, co-developed by Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson as a means to reduce beta amyloid plaque, was discontinued due to ineffectiveness.
Point being, the mere “amyloid plaque reduction” route may well be a dead end. This opens the door to other treatment possibilities, and means non-traditional Alzheimer’s stocks represent legitimate opportunities.
Whatever the true cause and effect of Alzheimer’s is, Aricept, Namenda, and Exelon generated $6 billion in sales, last year. And that’s with a mediocre benefit (at best) from these treatments, and a questionable benefit in too many cases. Were a truly effective drug brought to market, some experts believe the size of the Alzheimer’s market could be worth $20 billion. It’s only a matter of time before some young, enterprising organization does exactly that.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.