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Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Diagnostics that can identify biomarkers of disease in the blood are helping speed drug trials for intractable conditions like Alzheimer's.

Why it matters: Blood biomarker diagnostics can help pharmaceutical companies identify the right patients to enroll in drug trials for difficult-to-diagnose neurological conditions without resorting to more expensive and invasive methods like brain scans or spinal taps.

Driving the news: The FDA is due to make a decision by June 7 on Biogen's aducanumab drug, which if approved would be the first drug ever authorized to slow the course of a form of dementia found in some 6 million Americans.

  • The decision will be fraught — an advisory panel to the FDA declined to endorse the drug in November, saying there was not enough evidence of its effectiveness.

Between the lines: Potential Alzheimer's drugs have continually disappointed in trials, in part because identifying potential trial participants in the earliest stages of the disease has been so difficult.

  • "Historically by the time you present with dementia, it's very difficult for a drug to reverse it," says Kevin Hrusovsky, CEO of the diagnostics company Quanterix. "By recruiting patients long before dementia, you increase the probability that the trial is going to be successful."

How it works: Quanterix's testing platform has been able to identify very small levels in the blood of a protein linked to Alzheimer's disease called neurofilament light chain (NfL), a biomarker of neuronal death.

  • NfL is found in greater concentrations in cerebrospinal fluid, but detecting it there requires painful and expensive spinal taps.
  • "We can identify elevations in NfL 16 years before dementia symptoms set in," says Hrusovsky. That predictive ability, plus the relatively low cost and ease of a blood test, makes it ideal for screening patients.

What's next: While blood biomarker tests like Quanterix's will most immediately be useful for trial screening, Hrusovsky envisions a future where such diagnostics could be used to identify early signs of brain disease or injury in the general public.

Go deeper: Scientists hunt for antiviral drugs to fight COVID-19

Go deeper

Biden calls on Congress to lower prescription drug costs

Photo: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden on Thursday called on Congress to reduce the prices of prescription drugs, the White House said.

State of play: Biden asked Congress to create reforms that will prevent drug companies from raising their prices "faster than inflation." He also urged Congress to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, which it is currently prohibited from doing so by law.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. sounds alarm on Ukraine

Conscripts line up at a Russian railway station yesterday before departing for Army service. Photo: Sergei Malgavko/TASS via Getty Images

The Biden administration is "deeply concerned" by new intelligence — detailed for Axios and other outlets — showing Russia stepping up preparations to invade Ukraine as soon as early 2022.

Why it matters: Most of this was known from public sources and satellite imagery, but the administration is sending a stronger signal by releasing specific details from the intelligence community.

CNN fires Chris Cuomo

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for CNN

CNN said Saturday evening it has fired one of its star anchors, Chris Cuomo, following new revelations from a legal review made by the company into Cuomo's involvement in the management of his brother's sexual harassment scandal.

Why it matters: Saturday's firing speaks to how much pressure CNN was under by employees and critics to address Cuomo's behavior.