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An experimental medicine appeared to slow the decline of patients with the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, the drug’s maker, Eli Lilly, said.

The results are likely to generate both excitement and debate in the Alzheimer’s field, because the study is small — enrolling just 272 patients — and because the medicine, donanemab, is the latest in a line of similar drugs that all target the same basic chemical mechanism, known as beta amyloid. Multiple previous beta amyloid-targeting drugs have failed to reach the market, costing drugmakers billions of dollars in wasted research dollars. In November, a panel of expert advisers to the Food and Drug Administration voted that the latest, aducanumab from Biogen, should not be approved. The FDA has not reached a decision on aducanumab, but usually follows the advice of its expert panels. Lilly’s results may be enough to bring debate about the “amyloid hypothesis,” which had settled down, back to life.

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