The brain man
BY: JEANNE WHALEN From: The Wall Street Journal November 19, 2012
SOME people collect stamps, others vintage cars. As a young PhD student at the University of Cambridge in the 1980s, Claude Wischik was on a mission to collect brains.
It wasn't easy. At the time, few organ banks kept entire brains. But Wischik, an Australian who was in his early 30s at the time, was trying to answer a riddle still puzzling the scientific community: what causes Alzheimer's disease?..
In his lifelong investigation, Wischik has backed a minority scientific view that a protein called tau - which forms twisted fibres known as tangles inside the brain cells of Alzheimer's patients - is largely responsible for driving the disease...
The company Wischik co-founded 10 years ago, TauRx Pharmaceuticals, is based in Singapore but conducts most of its research in Scotland, where he now lives. As his tau effort was launched, early tests of drugs designed to attack amyloid plaques were disappointing...
In 2004 TauRx began a clinical trial of its drug, called methylene blue, in 332 Alzheimer's patients...
But TauRx did not publish a full set of data from the trial and this led to some scepticism among researchers. (Wischik says it didn't protect the company's commercial interests.)
What's more, a higher, 100mg dose of the drug didn't produce the same positive effects in patients. Wischik blames this on the way the 100mg dose was formulated and says the company is testing a tweaked version of the drug in its new clinical trials, which will begin enrolling patients this year.
With its new clinical trial program under way, TauRx is the first company to test a tau-targeted drug against Alzheimer's in a large human study, known in the industry as a phase 3 trial.
Wischik admits he may be just as much a zealot about tau as he accuses others of being about beta amyloid. "I may be," he says. "In the end ... it's down to the phase three trial."