Some Alzheimer's News to Celebrate: 2018 Brain Prize Winners

Earlier this week, the Lundbeck Foundation announced the winners of the annual Brain Prize. The €1 million research prize recognizes researchers who have made an outstanding contribution to neuroscience. It is the world’s largest brain research prize – the “Nobel Prize of the brain” – and this year it was awarded to four pioneers in the battle against Alzheimer’s.

The groundbreaking work of Bart De Strooper, Michael Goedert, Christian Haas and John Hardy has revolutionized our understanding of the genetic and molecular basis of Alzheimer’s disease. The winners, while highly acclaimed in their fields, work mostly out of the limelight, conducting early investigational research. But their findings have far-reaching implications for the development of new therapies to treat Alzheimer’s.

Amidst the recent headlines about clinical trial failures, and news that some drug companies are exiting the challenging, risky and expensive neuroscience space, the Brain Prize this year provides a welcome opportunity to celebrate the progress we have made in Alzheimer’s. And this award is a reminder of the vital role that early research plays in our fight against Alzheimer’s.

Much of the Alzheimer’s research being conducted today is rooted in the contributions of Brain Prize winner John Hardy. Professor Hardy’s work led to both the discovery of the first genetic mutation associated with familial Alzheimer’s disease and the formulation of the amyloid hypothesis for Alzheimer’s. This theory suggests that the disease is initiated by the build-up of amyloid protein in the brain, and when these particles clump together in “plaques,” they block critical communication between synapses and cause cell death. Identification of this foundational genetic cause has allowed investigators to dramatically narrow the search for treatments.

Another winner, Michel Goedert, helped to identify tau protein as the main source of neurofibrillary tangles, a defining characteristic of the disease. Professor Goedert and his team have shown that the tau protein spreads within the neurons of the brain and from neuron to neuron. These discoveries have given us a new and better understanding of the gradual spread of symptoms in the brain.

At Lundbeck – the only global pharmaceutical company focused solely on brain disorders – we are building on the breakthroughs of these Brain Prize winners and attacking Alzheimer’s disease from a variety of angles. In our late-stage pipeline, we have symptomatic treatments – therapies that potentially offer benefits in important areas such as agitation. And in our earlier-stage pipeline, we are focused on reducing the impact of the two main pathological mechanisms in Alzheimer’s disease – beta amyloid plaques and tau tangles – with disease-modifying treatments that aim to slow the progression of the disease. One such program is a therapeutic vaccine in clinical trials that trains the immune system to identify and eliminate fragments of beta-amyloid.

Alzheimer’s is one of the greatest health challenges of our time, and we at Lundbeck know we can’t do it alone. We are engaged in several partnerships exploring a variety of challenges – from understanding the link between the immune system, neuroinflammation and brain disorders to pursuing ways to address the blood-brain-barrier and modifying antibodies to attack the disease.

Through these and other early-stage projects, we are working to increase the research community’s understanding of Alzheimer’s disease. Some of these efforts are quite early, and some may prove less successful than others. The brain is the body’s most complex organ and Alzheimer’s is one of the most challenging diseases to tackle. But our team of scientists and researchers, along with our collaboration partners and the winners of this year’s Brain Prize, among others, are committed to pushing ahead. From failure, we gain knowledge; and from every success we gain hope – hope that someday soon we can change the course of this devastating disease.