As Dr. Sid Gilman approached the stage, the hotel ballroom quieted with anticipation. It was July 29, 2008, and a thousand people had gathered in Chicago for the International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease. For decades, scientists had tried, and failed, to devise a cure for Alzheimer’s. But in recent years two pharmaceutical companies, Elan and Wyeth, had worked together on an experimental drug called bapineuzumab, which had shown promise in halting the cognitive decay caused by the disease. Tests on mice had proved successful, and in an initial clinical trial a small number of human patients appeared to improve. A second phase of trials, involving two hundred and forty patients, was near completion. Gilman had chaired the safety-monitoring committee for the trials. Now he was going to announce the results of the second phase.

Alzheimer’s affects roughly five million Americans, and it is projected that as the population ages the number of new cases will increase dramatically. This looming epidemic has added urgency to the scientific search for a cure. It has also come to the attention of investors, because there would be huge demand for a drug that diminishes the effects of Alzheimer’s. As Elan and Wyeth spent hundreds of millions of dollars concocting and testing bapineuzumab, and issued hints about the possibility of a medical breakthrough, investors wondered whether bapi, as it became known, might be “the next Lipitor.” Several months before the Chicago conference, Barron’s published a cover story speculating that bapi could become “the biggest drug of all time.” [Read more] – Michael’s Blog