A group of Connecticut investors is helping to fund the first human clinical trial of a new Alzheimer's treatment that its inventors believe could revolutionize the way we see the disease.
More than five million people in the U.S. suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, an irreversible brain condition that leads to devastating mental decline and death.
The many millions of dollars currently pouring into Alzheimer’s research is mostly looking for a pharmaceutical solution – a pill you can take to slow or stop the disease. But decades of research have gone nowhere.
This is the story of a completely different approach. In May of last year, a skeptical group of reporters gathered to watch Eric Knight, Connecticut-based inventor and entrepreneur, demonstrate his electromagnetic treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.
Knight, through his company Remarkable Technologies, had just patented what looks like a helmet made of metal plates, worn on the patient’s head, which gives a controlled dose of radio waves to the brain.
The device is based on research that was carried out in mice, by a team headed by Dr. Gary Arendash, the editor of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
In Arendash’s study, when an electromagnetic treatment was applied to the mice, which had been specially bred to have Alzheimer’s, their cognitive decline was halted and in some cases actually reversed.
But finding backing to get the device into a human clinical trial wasn't straightforward.
“Frankly, it sounded crazy," said Connecticut-based angel investor and molecular biologist Ed Goodwin. "I mean this is about as close to the image of somebody wearing a tin foil hat to cure a disease as you can get.”
But still, when Knight and Arendash turned to him to consider the project, he found it intriguing -- because sometimes crazy is in his wheelhouse.
“We’re looking for very high growth, high risk startups," Goodwin told WNPR. "Things that could potentially grow on to be Google or be acquired by Google. Or, a small bioscience company that for example could end up curing Alzheimer’s disease.”
And so, over many months, Goodwin did his due diligence and continued a dialogue with Gary Arendash, the man who’d carried out the mouse experiments.
“To me, what was super-compelling about Gary’s work was that he had shown in a mouse system that you could restore some cognitive ability, and to my understanding there’s nothing out there right now that has demonstrated that,” said Goodwin.
Arendash’s startup, NeuroEM, is based in Phoenix, Arizona. His own head device, developed in parallel with Knight’s, is now cleared by the FDA, and he is partnering with the Banner Institute in Arizona to allow it to be worn by real Alzheimer’s patients, to test if it can slow or reverse the course of their disease.
Arendash said that trial that should begin the fall, partly financed by members of the Connecticut based Angel Investor Forum. “So frequently basic science does not span that bridge into clinical trials for one reason or another, so we’re really excited,” he said.
Because no one has yet found a drug that works, many experts say the next most promising approach is to identify who’s most at risk of Alzheimer’s, and somehow prevent the disease from taking hold.
Arendash doesn’t agree.
“The issue is not so much that we’re starting therapy too late, as it is we’re using the wrong therapeutic approaches," he said. "The pathology for Alzheimer’s really is inside the neurons or the brain cells, it’s not outside, in my view, and drugs simply can’t get into the brain cells.”
He hopes the clinical trial will prove that his electromagnetic stimulation can penetrate those cells, and disaggregate the beta amyloid proteins that cause the plaques that are so characteristic of the disease.
If he’s right, he wants to get his device onto the market and into the hands of doctors within four years, much faster than any drug treatment could be approved. Connecticut inventor Eric Knight says for future clinical trials technology from the device he developed will also be incorporated.
“We want to combine the best of what our two companies have developed into a single device that would be optimized in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.
For Ed Goodwin, the Connecticut investor, this risky endeavor is both a chance to tackle a horrible disease and to tap a huge medical market. But he has one more motivation for putting his own hard-earned money at risk.
"If this does work we’d look really smart," he said. "As angel investors you dream for that day when you can turn to your spouse and say, see, I was right!"
The team hopes to have preliminary data on their trial by next spring.