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Drug Compound Research Leads to First Patent

Published on 01 January 2014

John M. Beale, Ph.D., professor of medicinal chemistry and pharmacognosy, has discovered four promising compounds that may treat and even prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. In December 2013, he acquired an international patent—the first in the College’s history.

The patent is for four anti-dementia medications that bind to the compound sortilin, a receptor that prevents the elimination of a protein, called progranulin, from brain tissue. Progranulin is necessary for nerve health and it’s an anti-inflammatory agent in the brain. So, in various stages of dementia, there isn’t enough progranulin. By blocking the sortilin receptor, progranulin levels increase.

“Frontotemporal dementia is what we’re dealing with in regard to the sortilin compounds,” Beale explains. “It is actually a form of early onset dementia. It could happen in a 40-year-old, whereas Alzheimer’s tends to be more prevalent in people over the age of 60.”

Beale began his research into Alzheimer’s disease and dementia five years ago. He now collaborates with Nigel Cairns, Ph.D., from the Department of Neurology at Washington University School of Medicine and Michael Gitcho, Ph.D., from the College of Pharmacy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Beale finds the series of compounds that the computer says should bind well, and Cairns and Gitcho then take the findings and test them in the lab. A potential cure or treatment for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia as a result of Beale’s research is a decade or more away though.

“You’ve got to expect that when you do an experiment, probably the first few times you do it, it’s not going to work. You keep trying over and over again, and it just might work eventually.”

Alzheimer’s and other dementias are the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. They occur in one out of three people aged 85 or older. As baby boomers age, the cost of caring for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is expected to double by 2040. It’s currently $157 to $215 billion a year.

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