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Carrington College Blog

Benzos linked to Alzheimer’s disease

September 19, 2014

Anti-anxiety pills have been linked to Alzheimer's disease.A new study suggests that the prescription usage of anti-anxiety medication such as Valium and Xanax can potentially contribute to one’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The research found that benzodiazepine use for durations longer than six months doubled a person’s risk when compared to those who never took the drug.The study, published in British Medicine Journal, illuminates an important link for those in the industry of pharmacy technology.

On the other hand, as scientists uncover this correlation between benzodiazepine and Alzheimer’s disease,  global pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly has signed a deal with AstraZeneca to market a promising Alzheimer’s medication in the U.S. According to Reuters, Eli Lilly will pay the British drug company $500 million for shared rights to the BACE inhibitor drug called AZD3293.Over the past two decades there have been no significant pharmaceutical advancements regarding Alzheimer’s disease. If AZD3293 gains FDA approval it will be extremely lucrative for the American drug firm as well as beneficial to a growing number of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Benzos study

Researchers analyzed the data of 8,990 adults older than 66 years of age, 1,796 of whom had Alzheimer’s disease. Subjects were residents of Quebec, Canada, and were covered by the nation’s public drug plan between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2009. Those included in the study were categorized into benzodiazepine users and non-users. In the five to 10 years before the study commenced, researchers found that 3,767 subjects had used an identifiable version of the drug such as Valium, Xanax or Ativan.3 Users were further subcategorized into those that had regularly taken the drug for less than three months, three to six months and more than six months.1

Scientists found that those who had taken the drug were 51 percent more likely to have Alzheimer’s disease.A significant portion of the older adult population are prescribed ‘benzos’ to address issues such as insomnia. However, these drugs have a negative effect on cognition and strong association with the onset of dementia; although, researchers do note that in some of these cases undiagnosed dementia may in fact the catalyst of a physician prescribing benzodiazepine. Moreover, the study did not examine the effects of benzodiazepine on young people, leaving little room for age comparison.

The need for new drugs

The benzos study notes that dependency in older adults is commonly a result of dementia, making it a major public health concern that will likely continue to grow as the global population ages.This is in fact one of the main factors that instigated researchers to examine the association between benzos and Alzheimer’s disease. Since dementia has no viable cure, the researchers found that it is imperative to seek out preventative measures.

AZD3293 is currently scheduled to enter late-stage Phase III clinical testing, so the drug could go to market as soon as 2015. However, AstraZeneca gives the drug a very low success rate due to the high failure rate with drugs aiming to treat Alzheimer’s.Current drugs on the market provide brief improvements in memory function but do nothing to slow the onset of the disease. While AstraZeneca and Eli Lilly are looking to fast-track AZD3293 because it is a potential moneymaker, if it proves effective in slowing Alzheimer’s disease it might be able to benefit the 36 million people worldwide that suffer from dementia.

What is clear is that new drugs need to be created that can halt or reverse the neurodegenerative disease, which is expected to affect 115 million people by 2050.It will be the task of pharmacy technicians to develop treatments, as well as identify more preventative strategies, to help dementia sufferers.

1 “Benzodiazepine use and risk of Alzheimer’s disease: case-control study” by Sophie Billioti de Gage, PhD student, Yola Moride, professor, Thierry Ducruet, researcher, Tobias Kurth, director of research, Hélène Verdoux, professor, Marie Tournier, associate professor, Antoine Pariente, associate professor, Bernard Bégaud, professor. British Medicine Journal. September 9, 2014.

2 “AstraZeneca gets up to $500 million from Lilly for Alzheimer’s drug” by Ben Hirschler. Reuters. September 16, 2014.

3 “Xanax, Valium, Ativan and other ‘benzos’ are linked to Alzheimer’s in older people.” by Linda Searing. The Washington Post. September 15, 2014.