In clinical trials that lasted over two years, Johnson & Johnson
Reminyl is in a class of drugs known as cholinesterase inhibitors, which increase levels of acetylcholine, a chemical that transmits nerve signals in the brain. Some public advocacy groups have railed against the use of Reminyl and other such drugs in its class, saying they have been shown to have minimal benefits and their safety after taking them longer than six months is unknown. Other drugs in this class include Exelon from Novartis
The Reminyl study involved about 2,000 people in 16 countries. It was hoped that the drug could be used to treat mild cognitive impairment in Alzheimer's patients. There is no cure for the illness, and even Aricept, the No. 1 prescribed treatment for such impairment, only offers improvement in the day-to-day living condition of patients.
Johnson & Johnson found that 15 people died taking Reminyl compared to five taking a placebo. A number of the deaths were from heart attacks and strokes, and it is not believed that the drug itself actually caused any of them. In fact, the incidence of death among the elderly population in the trial was low, and serious side effects were the same for patients taking the drug or a placebo.
Manufactured with British Shire Pharmaceuticals
Shire's shares fell some 4% when the news was released, after hitting a 52-week high of $36.05. Johnson & Johnson was off only 1% or so. Although it earns about $200 million a year from sales of Reminyl, Johnson & Johnson is wise to forgo pushing further applications for its use. Pharmaceutical companies in general are under the gun after the failure of the COX-2 inhibitors, and associating Reminyl with them, even though it's a completely different animal, might cause greater loss of investor confidence.
At least for this particular treatment of Alzheimer's, the daffodils are better left in the garden.
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Fool contributor Rich Duprey owns shares of Merck and Eisai, but does not own any of the other stocks mentioned in this article.