October 30, 2017
Reporter's Notebook

Clinical trial for Alzheimer's treatment with CT roots readies

HBJ Photo | Matt Pilon
HBJ Photo | Matt Pilon
Ed Goodwin, president of the Connecticut Angel Investor Forum, tries on the NeuroEm 1000.

A group of investors and scientists recently sat around a conference table in downtown Hartford's Stilts Building to discuss a Florida-based clinical trial for a helmet-like medical device that aims to reverse the effects of Alzheimer's disease.

What were they doing in Hartford? Simple enough, explained Gary Arendash, a longtime Alzheimer's researcher and CEO of Phoenix-based NeuroEM Therapeutics, which is leading the clinical trial.

"We have a number of investors … here in Connecticut and I thought it would be great to meet them in person," said Arendash, who hadn't previously visited the state. "I think 10 out of the 11 noteholders are here in Connecticut."

NeuroEM Therapeutics has raised upwards of $1 million for the phase one clinical trial. One investor is Eric Knight, a longtime Connecticut inventor and mentor in the state's CTNext entrepreneurial program.

Knight designed a helmet-like device that delivers electromagnetic waves to the brain, of the same sort that a cell phone might. He patented his design and licensed it to NeuroEm a few years ago, where Arendash had been working on similar technology.

Today, the helmet technology looks more polished and has an attached control box that a patient wears. Patients in the clinical trial will use the device for two months, wearing the helmet for two hours per day in two separate sessions. The treatment can be done at home, which has reduced the potential costs of the trial, Knight said.

The hope is that electromagnetic waves could shake loose tangled strands of proteins inside brain cells that are associated with Alzheimer's disease.

After licensing his device, Knight encouraged the Connecticut Angel Investor Forum, of which he is a member, to consider taking a stake in NeuroEM.

Ed Goodwin, a biologist who leads the angel forum, said he was skeptical of the technology at first, but then read published animal research by Arendash and others — which found using electromagnetic waves on mice with Alzheimer's provided some cognitive benefits — and started to think otherwise.

"It's a simple idea," Goodwin said. "It's complex figuring out how to adjust it and do it just quite properly and all. But this was based on a good deal of research in multiple labs that showed consistent results."

The forum ended up investing about $150,000.

"For them to put their money in is about the biggest stamp of approval you can possibly have," Knight said.

Now, after some delay, NeuroEm and its partners are looking ahead to testing the device, called the NeuroEM 1000, on a dozen patients in Florida.

The trial had been set to begin late last year at a facility in Arizona, and NeuroEM hoped to publish its findings by now. But Arendash said he ran into problems there and patients were not being put into the trial.

His team spent the past eight months finding a new host, which ended up being the University of South Florida's Byrd Alzheimer's Institute, where Arendash previously worked for 30 years.

Arendash said he tried to find a clinical trial partner in Connecticut, but the timing didn't work out. He expects to have his 12 patients enrolled at USF by year's end and to publish results in 2018.

The phase one trial is aimed at ensuring the device is safe, but NeuroEM will also be looking for signs that patients are seeing some improvement in their condition.

If things look promising, the team will need more money for a phase two trial.

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