Alzheimer's disease (AD) has no currently approved disease-modifying therapies (DMTs), and treatments to prevent, delay the onset, or slow the progression are urgently needed. A delay of 5 years if available by 2025 would decrease the total number of patients with AD by 50% in 2050. To meet the definition of DMT, an agent must produce an enduring change in the course of AD; clinical trials of DMTs have the goal of demonstrating this effect. AD drug discovery entails target identification followed by high throughput screening and lead optimization of drug-like compounds. Once an optimized agent is available and has been assessed for efficacy and toxicity in animals, it progresses through Phase I testing with healthy volunteers, Phase II learning trials to establish proof-of-mechanism and dose, and Phase III confirmatory trials to demonstrate efficacy and safety in larger populations. Phase III is followed by Food and Drug Administration review and, if appropriate, market access. Trial populations include cognitively normal at-risk participants in prevention trials, mildly impaired participants with biomarker evidence of AD in prodromal AD trials, and subjects with cognitive and functional impairment in AD dementia trials. Biomarkers are critical in trials of DMTs, assisting in participant characterization and diagnosis, target engagement and proof-of-pharmacology, demonstration of disease-modification, and monitoring side effects. Clinical trial designs include randomized, parallel group; delayed start; staggered withdrawal; and adaptive. Lessons learned from completed trials inform future trials and increase the likelihood of success.
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