Alzheimer’s Tougher Than AIDS, J&J Doc Says

It took just over 20 years from the discovery of the virus that causes AIDS in 1983 to the development of an effective treatment in the mid-2000s. But no one should expect similarly rapid progress against Alzheimer’s disease, says Dr. Paul Stoffels, Johnson & Johnson’s (JNJ:US) chief scientific officer and worldwide chairman of pharmaceuticals.

“I think the world is making exceptionally fast progress” against Alzheimer’s, “but at the same time people are expecting miracles,” Stoffels said Friday in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The human immunodeficiency virus was easy to remove from the body and study in the lab, Stoffels said. As for Alzheimer’s, “It’s in a box which you cannot access,” namely the head.

With AIDS, reducing the “viral load” is proof of progress against the disease. Frustratingly with Alzheimer’s, J&J developed a drug that dramatically reduced beta amyloid plaques in the brain — but it didn’t improve patients’ memory.

Stoffels said J&J and others are continuing to make progress against the brain-ravaging disease — just not as fast as medicine moved against AIDS.

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