Alzheimer's is the mind stealer, a terribly long, sad fade-out. My grandfather died of it. So did my next-door neighbor. He would seem engaged with you, then suddenly his face would sag, his eyes would grow vacant, and he wouldn't know where he was.
We've all seen the movie.
It's a frustrating disease. The search for a cure is frustrating as well.
But Daniel Chain called today and offered hope.
Chain has what he calls a "platform" covering at least three monoclonal antibodies that can act against Alzheimer's. One drug based on the platform is in a Stage Three trial. Others are in first or second stage trial.
"What we have is a way of potentially treating Alzheimer's using monoclonal antibodies that will bind to the beta amyloid toxin without binding to the precursor protein it produces. That's an important safety feature. At each end there's a signature that's in the toxin but not the precursor.
"By binding beta amyloid it could work in a number of ways to prevent amyloid accumulation."
Researchers believe that Alzheimer's develops as soluble proteins called beta amyloids form toxic clumps, which eventually deposit on the surface of nerve cells and slowly kill the brain.
Chain has been working on his concept since 1996. His first company, Mindset Biopharmaceuticals, drew $15 million in venture funding in 2002. His current company, Intellect Neurosciences, is based in New York and trades at around 15 cents per share.
"The antibodies prevent plaque and pre-plaque clmps from accumulating. The issue isn't whether the antibodies work. They work. The important problem is the safety issue. Of the various approaches it's notable that three are all using our platform."
These are deep pocket licensees, including a unit of Pfizer and a unit of Johnson & Johnson among them. This is the way cures arise now. The theoretical work of scientists moves into small companies, and big pharma moves in when the costs of trials scale and the case for the drug starts to look promising.
"We're still a ways off," he admits. "According to the clinical trial web site there are 8 ongoing phase three trials ongoing for this drug, and they're ending at different times. There's no fixed launch date at this point. These first trials will end in 2012."
Something around which you can find hope this July 4 weekend.