An experimental Alzheimer’s drug that had previously appeared to show promise in slowing the deterioration of thinking and memory has failed in a large Eli Lilly clinical trial, dealing a significant disappointment to patients hoping for a treatment that would alleviate their symptoms.

The failure of the drug, solanezumab, underscores the difficulty of treating people who show even mild dementia, and supports the idea that by that time, the damage in their brains may already be too extensive. And because the drug attacked the amyloid plaques that are the hallmark of Alzheimer’s, the trial results renew questions about a leading theory of the disease, which contends that it is largely caused by amyloid buildup.




No drug so far has been able to demonstrate that removing or preventing the accumulation of amyloid translates into a result that matters for patients: stalling or blocking some of the symptoms of dementia. “It’s not going to be disease-modifying therapy for mild patients, so that’s heartbreaking,” said Dave Ricks, the incoming president and chief executive of Eli Lilly.

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