“Alzheimer’s (AHLZ-high-merz) disease is a progressive brain disorder that gradually destroys a person’s memory and ability to learn, reason, make judgments, communicate and carry out daily activities. As Alzheimer’s progresses, individuals may also experience changes in personality and behavior, such as anxiety, suspiciousness or agitation, as well as delusions or hallucinations.” – From Alzheimer’s Association

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — A tragedy of possibly immeasurable proportions continues to unfold at Voyager Pharmaceuticals.

I’m not talking about the financial struggles that, as documented by The News & Observer, have infected the Raleigh-based firm.

No, the tragedy is the delay in bringing to market a drug being tested by Voyager that might successfully fight Alzheimer’s disease. The N&O reported today that the company is stopping Phase III clinical trials of its proposed treatment.

The Wall Street Journal this week described Alzheimer’s as a “scourge.” That’s a quite apt and riveting description.

Alzheimer’s now grips 4.5 million people in its relentless, incurable drive to erase all cognitive function in the brains of patients, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The number of victims has doubled since 1980. Those afflicted with dementia are expected to worsen as more baby boomers pass 60.

Here’s a chilling statistic from the Alzheimer’s group:

“The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease will continue to grow — by 2050 the number of individuals with Alzheimer’s could range from 11.3 million to 16 million.”

But the world has to wait for the Voyager principals to get the firm’s financial house in order — or finds another solution – before its “leuprolide” wins approval.

The WSJ story noted Voyager’s candidate had been especially effective in treating women who have Alzheimer’s, based on recently disclosed test results. However, the drug’s effectiveness is not universal. “The men’s study was not as compelling,” Brian Reynolds, director of medical information at Voyager, told the newspaper.

(Odd as it may seem, leuprolide under the name Lupron is an approved treatment for prostate cancer, The WSJ noted.)

The WSJ noted that the drug had a “dramatic slowing” impact on mental deterioration of the women taking it.

Voyager touted the results at an international Alzheimer’s conference in July.

“Women treated with leuprolide acetate and the current standard of care, acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, better maintained their level of cognitive ability and daily activities for nearly one year,” said Christopher Gregory, vice president of research at Voyager, at the time. “These findings mean that, for a sustained period of time, women treated with the drug were able to maintain their memory and their ability to do things like dress themselves.”

Voyager said it planned two Phase III trials and hoped to have enrollment of 550 patients completed by Dec. 31 of this year.

Now comes news of the halt.

If you know someone who has — or has died from — Alzheimer’s, you know first-hand just how sad the Voyager news really is.

To see, The N&O story, go to: www.newsobserver.com/104/story/500732.html

For The WSJ’s update on the Alzheimer’s fight, see: www.post-gazette.com/pg/06290/730724-114.stm

For Voyager’s press release about the good news in Madrid, see: www.voyagerpharma.com/news/madrid.cfm

To thoroughly depress yourself about just how devastating the scourge of Alzheimer’s is but at the same time find hope in the people committed to fighting the disease, see: www.alz.org/