German firm to launch Alzheimer's screening test this year

By Ned Stafford

FRANKFURT, Germany (Reuters Health) – A company co-founded by a German professor is preparing to market a cerebrospinal fluid screening test for detecting Alzheimer's disease in early stages.

Professor Konrad Beyreuther, of the Center for Molecular Biology at the University of Heidelberg, told Reuters Health that testing kits have already been developed and would be ready for sale beginning in the second quarter of this year.

The kits will be marketed by ABETA GmbH, a company co-founded by Beyreuther last year with financing from biotech venture capital firm Venture Capital-Gesellschaft Heidelberg Innovation. The company also hopes to develop tests for early detection of Parkinson's disease and other neurodegenerative diseases, with the long-term goal of developing treatments and vaccinations for diseases.

"We hope that our research in diagnosing this disease can be used to help find treatments," he said.

The testing kits will screen for beta-amyloid proteins, specifically abeta 42, which is present in increased amounts in people in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, he said. After cerebrospinal fluid extraction, results will be available the next day. Higher-than-normal levels of abeta 42 will turn a test solution a deep yellow color, Prof. Beyreuther said.

Some 100 determinations can be made with each testing kit, enough to test about 25 patients. Prof. Beyreuther said kits will initially sell for around 1000 euros, but that prices would likely decline as demand grows and production increases.

Prof. Beyreuther said that the company hopes to develop a blood test for Alzheimer's disease within a couple of years.

Researchers for several years have been working on cerebrospinal fluid screening as a way to help physicians diagnose Alzheimer's disease at an earlier stage. In addition to beta-amyloid protein, some researchers have screened for tau as an Alzheimer's disease marker.

However, Prof. Beyreuther believes that beta-amyloid is a much better marker of Alzheimer's disease than tau, which he says also is marker for other diseases, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Prof. Beyreuther said that patients who learn they have Alzheimer's disease at an early stage are much better off than those who do not. They can begin taking medications and self-help steps that can improve the quality of their lives.

Prof. Beyreuther believes people over 70 years old should be tested for Alzheimer's disease, as well as younger people with memory problems.

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