As we approach the end of another month during this pandemic, we want to reflect on another disease that interferes with the lives of millions of people. June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month. Worldwide, 50 million people are living with AD and other dementias. Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, is a degenerative brain disease that impairs memory and cognitive abilities. AD is not part of the normal aging process, and disrupts activities of daily living, like having a conversation, driving, or even getting dressed. Nerve cells in the brain are damaged or destroyed, and symptoms worsen over time.
There is no cure for AD, only medications to treat some of the symptoms, like agitation. Few effective treatments are available despite vigorous clinical research efforts across the world. The field of AD continues to experience trial failures.
COVID-19 has disrupted trials in many disease areas, including Alzheimer’s. It is more difficult than ever for older patients with cognitive impairments, who may be more vulnerable due to age and/or additional, pre-existing health conditions, to participate in clinical trials. Patients with AD who may have had regular doctor’s visits, or day time memory care, are now at home with caregivers or family members. Families may decline to have a home health nurse visit to collect data for a trial due to fear of COVID-19 exposure. Clinical research must continue in order to discover new drugs, and it is our collective responsibility to find novel approaches to this problem.
At Unlearn, our goal is to use the data available from historical trials, to generate new evidence to inform and advance research. We are working towards creating solutions for treating earlier stages of AD. Using Artificial Intelligence, we build models to create digital twins. Our models use baseline data (information collected at the first visit in a trial, like vitals, lab tests, and cognitive evaluations) to create a comprehensive, longitudinal patient record - a prediction of what would have happened if a patient had received a placebo. These simulated or virtual patients populate control arms of trials, and can increase the statistical power of the trial, and accelerate study timelines. More, actual patients have the opportunity to receive an experimental treatment they may desperately need, and fewer total patients are needed to enroll in a study.
Even though we are all physically apart right now, we are united in our search for more effective treatments for Alzheimer’s. Millions of patients and their families, friends, and caregivers, are waiting, and time is especially unforgiving with progressive disease. This pandemic has compelled adoption of novel approaches to trials, and we have a unique opportunity to change clinical research for the better. Let’s stand together with conviction to make it happen. #EndAlz