The Alzheimer's disease drug development landscape

Alzheimers Res Ther. 2021 Nov 11;13(1):186. doi: 10.1186/s13195-021-00927-z.


Background: Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a devastating neurodegenerative disease leading to dementia. The field has made significant progress over the last 15 years. AD diagnosis has shifted from syndromal, based on signs and symptoms, to a biomarker construct based on the pathological hallmarks of the disease: amyloid β deposition, pathologic tau, and neurodegeneration. Numerous genetic risk factors for sporadic AD have been identified, providing further insight into the molecular underpinnings of the disease. For the last two decades, however, drug development for AD has been proven to be particularly challenging. Here, we provide a unique overview of the drug development landscape for AD. By comparing preclinical and clinical drug development pipelines, we aim to describe trends and differences regarding target classes and therapeutic modalities in preclinical and clinical development.

Methods: We analyzed proprietary and public databases and company websites for drugs in preclinical development for AD by the pharmaceutical industry and major clinical trial registries for drugs in clinical development for AD. Drugs were categorized by target class and treatment modality.

Results: We found a higher proportion of preclinical interventions targeting molecular pathways associated with sporadic AD genetic risk variants, compared to clinical stage interventions. These include apolipoprotein E (ApoE) and lipids, lysosomal/endosomal targets, and proteostasis. Further, we observed a trend suggesting that more traditional therapeutic modalities are developed for these novel targets, while more novel treatment modalities such as gene therapies and enzyme treatments are in development for more traditional targets such as amyloid β and tau. Interestingly, the percentage of amyloid β targeting therapies in preclinical development (19.2%) is even higher than the percentage in clinical development (10.7%), indicating that diversification away from interventions targeting amyloid-beta has not materialized. Inflammation is the second most popular target class in both preclinical and clinical development.

Conclusions: Our observations show that the AD drug development pipeline is diversifying in terms of targets and treatment modalities, while amyloid-targeting therapies remain a prominent avenue of development as well. To further advance AD drug development, novel companion diagnostics are needed that are directed at disease mechanisms related to genetic risk factors of AD, both for patient stratification and assessment of therapeutic efficacy in clinical trials.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; Drug development, Drug targets; Therapy.

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease* / drug therapy
  • Alzheimer Disease* / genetics
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • Biomarkers
  • Drug Development
  • Humans
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases*


  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • Biomarkers