Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in the elderly. It is caused by deposits of proteins called amyloid plaques in the brain that accumulate over decades. The clumps of amyloid damage the brain’s neurons, leading to progressive deficits in memory, learning, orientation in space and time, language, and planning skills.
Researchers at UZH and Neurimmune, a spin-off of UZH, succeeded in identifying protective antibodies against amyloid in healthy older people as well as in patients with slow-progressing dementia. The antibodies recognize the amyloid deposits in patients’ brain tissue. By studying the antibodies, the research team of Roger Nitsch, professor at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at UZH and CEO of Neurimmune, ultimately discovered the substance called aducanumab. Administered intravenously, the drug crosses the blood-brain barrier, binds to the amyloid in the brain and with the help of the immune system eliminates the amyloid proteins.
In clinical trials was demonstrated that aducanumab reduced brain amyloid in a dose- and time-dependent manner.
The spin-off Neurimmune, founded by two UZH professors Roger Nitsch and Christoph Hock, licensed aducanumab to the US company Biogen in 2007. Biogen and the Japanese company Eisai further developed the drug, and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has now approved the use of aducanumab for the treatment of Alzheimer’s.
For UZH President Michael Schaepman, aducanumab is an excellent example of the successful transfer of university research into application. “Neurimmune shows that innovative UZH spin-offs bring great value to society and can establish themselves in the marketplace,” says Schaepman.