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Prana at forefront of Alzheimer's breakthrough

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    Prana at forefront of Alzheimer's breakthrough
    By Robert Gottliebsen
    June 17, 2002
    A GROUP of Alzheimer's sufferers in Melbourne is among the first patients in the world to have had the progress of their disease inhibited.


    These people took part in what's called a Phase II human trial of a drug developed by Prana Biotechnology.

    PBT-1 still hasn't been proved, but the results of the human trial were so encouraging the company is now preparing to spend $US30 million ($54 million) on a full Phase III trial in the US.

    That trial will duplicate the one done in Melbourne. But it'll be conducted under strict US Food and Drug Administration guidelines and be more extensive.

    Meanwhile, Prana continues to treat the people whose Alzheimer's was slowed in the Phase II trial.

    Alzheimer's disease is caused when an amount of protein is sheared away from a key portion of the brain, and then absorbs metals from the body, causing an effect not unlike the rusting of a battery. Eventually, the brain isn't able to communicate properly.

    Much of the research on Alzheimer's has been directed at trying to stop the process by which protein is sheared away.

    But at the University of Melbourne, Professor Colin Masters began working on a process by which a molecule would absorb the metal from the sheared-off protein. It would then be disposed of by normal bodily functions.

    This work was greatly advanced by another Australian, Dr Ashley Bush, working at Harvard.

    Bush convinced cosmetic distributor Geoffrey Kempler to take the risk of his life and back the treatment process. Kempler was joined by Boris Liberman. Two years ago, Prana was floated at 50c a share. The stock is now trading about four times that price.

    Prana still has a long way to go. Most of this year will be spent preparing for the Phase III trial, which will take the best part of 2003 to complete. If all goes well, the drug should be available in 2005.

    Prana has about $4 million in cash. Via options that are in the money, it can raise a further $13 million.

    It wouldn't have much trouble raising the $54 million needed to conduct the Phase III trial.

    But such a process is high risk and the company may well link up with one of the global pharmaceutical majors, which would fund the trial.

    Kempler is leaning towards teaming up with a pharmaceutical company because, although they have been brutal in snatching research from small companies, nowadays they offer far better deals.

    Pharmaceutical companies are becoming desperate for "blockbuster" drugs that can tackle some of the world's more common diseases.

    The bill for treating Alzheimer's in the US is enormous. It's even possible the US Government could help fund research and speed up the trials if it believes Prana's Phase II results are likely to be duplicated in Phase III.

    One of the great tragedies is that many of the people who suffer from Alzheimer's will have died, or deteriorated to a critical stage, before the drug is proved.

    As for those fortunate enough to have been selected for the trials, half don't actually receive the drug – so the trial is a true test of its effectiveness.

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