Athena Neurosciences Inc. and Duke University Medical Centerannounced Tuesday that they have concluded an agreementgranting Athena (NASDAQ:ATHN) an exclusive worldwideoption to develop a diagnostic risk-factor test for Alzheimer'sdisease.

The prospective test would be used by physicians to evaluate aperson's risk of contracting the degenerative disease of thebrain, which leads to progressive memory loss, dementia anddeath.

Researchers at North Carolina's Duke University, led by AllenRoses, have determined that one of the alleles for the bloodprotein apolipoprotein E (apoE) can be a risk factor fordeveloping Alzheimer's. That allele -- one of the three anindividual can inherit -- is ApoE4. Roses' team has found that64 percent of patients with Alzheimer's had at least one copyof the ApoE4 allele, compared to only 31 percent for normalindividuals.

Furthermore, their data showed that people who inherited twocopies of the ApoE4 allele were eight times more likely todevelop the disease. The scientists also determined that theaverage age of onset of Alzheimer's disease was 68 years inpeople with two ApoE4 alleles, 75 in people with one allele, and84 in people who tested negative for the allele.

Athena of South San Francisco, Calif., intends to design its assayto measure the number of ApoE4 alleles in a patient's blood.This information will help physicians determine the patient'ssusceptibility to the disease and contribute to a more accuratediagnosis.

"In the long term, this test may be extremely valuable inidentifying that subset of individuals who might benefit mostfrom any neuroprotective therapy that can be developed toprevent or delay the loss of critical neuronal function thatresults in Alzheimer's," said John Groom, president and chiefexecutive officer of Athena.

-- Jennifer Van Brunt Senior Editor

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