We consulted with Dr. Lawrence T. Friedhoff, who led the development and approval of the widely-used Alzheimer’s treatment Aricept (donepezil), to discuss how it’s impacted the way we treat a disease touching more and more Americans as the boomer population ages.

MP: How has the Alzheimer’s treatment landscape evolved since Aricept became available to patients?

Lawrence Friedhoff: When we first developed Aricept in the 1990s, Alzheimer’s disease wasn’t well-known and there were no treatments available. Now, with five FDA-approved products, it’s clear that treatment is possible.

Over the years there’s been a push to explore drugs targeting beta-amyloid, a protein that can accumulate in the brain as we age, and is associated with dementia. Unfortunately, these investigational drugs haven’t shown convincing patient benefit and there have been no new FDA-approved compounds in more than a decade.

"...if you look hard and are patient, you’ll see the person you know and love is still there." 

The scientific community is focusing again on neurotransmitter-targeted drugs like Aricept, which increase concentration of chemicals essential to normal brain function. I’m currently leading the development of one such compound, RVT-101, which is an investigational treatment to be used with Aricept. It’s the first drug I’ve seen in years where there’s significant evidence of improvement on patients’ cognition and ability to perform daily activities. The Phase III clinical trial for RVT-101 is currently enrolling.  

MP: What has working with Alzheimer’s patients taught you?

LF: Earlier in my career I practiced medicine and cared for Alzheimer’s patients. I also cared for my mother who had Alzheimer’s disease. My advice is that if you look hard and are patient, you’ll see the person you know and love is still there.