Issues for Clinical Drug Development in Neurodegenerative Diseases
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- Bib, M. Drugs (2005) 65: 2463. doi:10.2165/00003495-200565170-00004
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Neurodegenerative diseases pose specific challenges for drug development. These diseases typically have a slow and variable clinical course, an insidious onset, and symptom expression is only observed when a significant proportion of neurons are already lost. It is important to identify vulnerability factors and other determinants of clinical course in order to be able in the future to select patient populations for clinical trials with a predictable prognosis. The neurodegenerative process itself is not amenable to direct observation and, thus, cannot be monitored in clinical trials. For this reason, surrogate biomarkers are required for use as outcome parameters. In this respect, magnetic resonance imaging has proved valuable for assessing disease activity and progression in multiple sclerosis. Rating scales are of use as outcome measures but, as these generally measure symptom severity, they are most appropriate for use in assessing symptomatic treatments. Survival has been used with success as an outcome measure in trials in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, where disease progression is rapid. The optimal outcome measure, the sample size required and the treatment duration need to be chosen in relation to the phase of the disease. Potential new treatments can be chosen based upon new knowledge of the genetics and physiopathology of neurodegenerative diseases and, in some cases, screened in transgenic mouse models, although it should be recognised that the validity of these models in terms of treatment response has yet to be established empirically.