Rochester company studies Alzheimer’s prevention drug under new funding

Dec 11, 2019

A pharmaceutical research company based in Rochester has received two grants in the last month to study an experimental treatment to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Vaccinex CEO Maurice Zauderer said current treatments for Alzheimer’s focus on managing symptoms. He said his company’s product, a drug called Pepinemab, aims to stop the disease from developing.

Rochester pharmaceutical company Vaccinex is testing a drug it says could prevent the brain damage that leads to Alzheimer's disease.
Credit National Institute on Aging

Alzheimer’s is often the product of scarring in the brain that builds up over decades, but the precise mechanism behind that it “has remained elusive,” researchers wrote last year in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

In some cases, like after a stroke, the scarring is helpful for the brain to heal, Zauderer said. But in other cases, it can also lead to cognitive decline. Those are the cases Pepinemab targets.

Now, Vaccinex has more than $3 million in new funding to test Pepinemab. The money comes from grants from the Alzheimer’s Association and the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation.

Zauderer said it’s a small portion of what he’s sure will be a multimillion-dollar price tag for Pepinemab’s clinical trials, but he said it’s necessary to get testing off the ground.

“Many academic researchers and biotechnology companies have identified new drug therapy candidates, but lack the funding to move them into clinical trials,” the Vaccinex said.

The company developed Pepinemab initially to fight Huntington’s disease. Zauderer said results from those clinical trials indicated the same drug -- “no changes to formulation or administration” -- could also be effective in preventing Alzheimer’s.

Pepinemab is administered intravenously. “It has to be injected into the bloodstream, and it’s taken up from the bloodstream into the brain,” Zauderer said.

Early tests have been promising, he said. “Our drug has been well-tolerated. We haven’t seen liver problems or heart problems or whatever kind of problem you’re looking for as a result.”

Vaccinex said the next phase of research, a “randomized, placebo-controlled, multi-center” study, should start around the middle of next year.