Immunotherapy for Alzheimer's disease: rational basis in ongoing clinical trials

Manuel Menéndez-González, Pablo Pérez-Piñera, Marta Martínez-Rivera, Alfonso López Muñiz, Jose A Vega
Current Pharmaceutical Design 2011, 17 (5): 508-20
Amyloid-β (Aβ) immunotherapy has recently begun to gain considerable attention as a potentially promising therapeutic approach to reducing the levels of Aβ in the Central Nervous System (CNS) of patients with Alzheimer's Disease (AD). Despite extensive preclinical evidence showing that immunization with Aβ(1-42) peptide can prevent or reverse the development of the neuropathological hallmarks of AD, in 2002, the clinical trial of AN-1792, the first trial involving an AD vaccine, was discontinued at Phase II when a subset of patients immunized with Aβ(1-42) developed meningoencephalitis, thereby making it necessary to take a more refined and strategic approach towards developing novel Aβ immunotherapy strategies by first constructing a safe and effective vaccine. This review describes the rational basis in modern clinical trials that have been designed to overcome the many challenges and known hurdles inherent to the search for effective AD immunotherapies. The precise delimitation of the most appropriate targets for AD vaccination remains a major point of discussion and emphasizes the need to target antigens in proteins involved in the early steps of the amyloid cascade. Other obstacles that have been clearly defined include the need to avoid unwanted anti-Aβ/APP Th1 immune responses, the need to achieve adequate responses to vaccination in the elderly and the need for precise monitoring. Novel strategies have been implemented to overcome these problems including the use of N-terminal peptides as antigens, the development of DNA based epitope vaccines and vaccines based on passive immunotherapy, recruitment of patients at earlier stages with support of novel biomarkers, the use of new adjuvants, the use of foreign T cell epitopes and viral-like particles and adopting new efficacy endpoints. These strategies are currently being tested in over 10,000 patients enrolled in one of the more than 40 ongoing clinical trials, most of which are expected to report final results within two years.

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