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Barry Cohen
Barry Cohen
Articles (226) 

Biohaven, Casava, Shoinigi Taking Different Approaches to Alzheimer's

These companies are working on neuroprotective agents and anti-inflammatories

In a GuruFocus article published on Aug. 25, I pointed out that until now, the over 200 testing programs conducted by pharmaceutical companies searching for an effective Alzheimer's drug have flopped.

The majority of these schemes have focused on addressing the physical changes in patients' brains. While many firms are still pursuing the physical (amyloid/tau) theory, numerous others are taking different routes to solve the Alzheimer's puzzle.

Neuroprotection agents

According to an article in Medical News Today, neuroprotectors cannot reverse existing damage, but may protect against it and slow any degeneration of the central nervous system. Therefore, the drugs may prove helpful to people with conditions that affect the nervous system, such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis.

Among the biotechs working in this area is Biohaven Pharmaceutical Holding Company Ltd. (BHVN). The company is testing one of its drugs that's been approved to treat a neurodegenerative disease linked to high levels of glutamate, as excessive glutamate activity is also a feature of Alzheimer's. The drug is in phase 2 trials for mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's, with early data expected to be available in the first quarter of next year.

Casava Sciences Inc. (SAVA), formerly known as Pain Therapeutics, is pursuing a treatment that stabilizes a scaffolding in the brain, which the company says could lead to improved neuronal function and reduced inflammation. Even though the drug failed to lower levels of Alzheimer's biomarkers in the brain and spinal fluid, the company hasn't given up hope. It's scouring data, looking for a kernel of optimism about the drug's effectiveness.

Meanwhile, Actinogen Medical Ltd. (ASX.ACW) has a drug in phase 2 that's designed to block the activity of the stress hormone cortisol in the central nervous system.


Inflammation has been thought to play an important role in Alzheimer's for about 30 years, but it's garnering increased attention, according to an article in FierceBiotech. Tests seem to show that people treated for years with anti-inflammatory drugs for rheumatoid arthritis seem to be resistant to dementia.

One late-stage candidate is AB Science's (XPAR:AB) treatment that acts on inflammation, which has shown some evidence that it may help against ALS. The drug had been tested in pancreatic cancer and gastrointestinal tumors, but didn't demonstrate improvement in patients.

Finally, phosphodiesterase inhibitors and leukotriene antagonists are already used to treat inflammatory diseases, and two biotechs are exploring their use in Alzheimer's.

One is IntelgenX (IGXT), which recently won approval to start a revised phase 2 trial of a medication developed by Merck & Co. Inc. (MRK) . It is being tested on to treat patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's.

Japanese drugmaker Shionigi & Co. (SGIOF) took a 50% ownership stake in Tetra Discovery with an option to buy the company after it became intrigued with Tetra's drug in mid-stage testing for Alzheimer's.

Disclosure: The author has no positions in any of the companies mentioned in this article.

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About the author:

Barry Cohen
Barry Cohen has nearly 40 years experience in communications and marketing, the majority in senior positions at large international health care companies, including Abbott Laboratories and Bayer Inc.

He has contributed to a number of financial websites, writing primarily about the stocks of health care companies.

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