Muraleedharan Nair, Michigan State University natural products chemist, has patented a botanical compound, withanamides. His spinoff company, Natural Therapeutics, will begin the trials as soon as funding is in place.
To date, none of the major pharmaceutical companies - Merck, Eli Lilly, Bristol-Myers Squibb - have been able to produce an effective treatment that passed human clinical trials, Nair said.
"This particular research has focused on Ashwagandha, an herbal remedy that's been used in Eastern medicines for centuries," he said. "Our compound withanamides may work to prevent Alzheimer's disease at the onset, and it also could prevent its progression."
While plants cannot be patented, compounds from it can. MSU holds the patent for withanamides, and earlier research revealed that the compound, found in the plants' seeds, proved to be a powerful anti-oxidant - double the strength of what's on today's market. The potent compound has shown that it can protect cells against damaging attacks by a rogue protein ¬- the earliest stage of Alzheimer's.
Alzheimer's begins when a specific protein starts breaking, or cleaving, at the wrong place to produce an unwanted fragment. This bad fragment, called BAP, stresses cells' membranes, sparks plaque formation and eventually kills the cells. This attack begins in the frontal lobe, erasing memories and continuing its unrelenting assault deeper into the brain.
A complicating factor is that the majority of protein cleaving is a natural, healthy process. Pharmaceutical companies, however, have focused their efforts on blocking the tiny faction of bad cleaving of the protein producing BAP.