03:34am Monday 20 January 2020

International backing for promising Alzheimer's treatment

The development of a new drug that could both halt the development and alleviate the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease has been backed by a leading European pharmaceutical company.

French pharmaceutical company Servier has thrown its support behind research by Monash University, St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research and the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health into developing drugs that target the protein Insulin-Regulated AminoPeptidase (IRAP).

Dr Siew Yeen Chai of Monash University’s Department of Physiology leads the research, collaborating with Associate Professor Philip Thompson of the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Professor Michael Parker of St Vincent’s Institute to develop drug-like molecules that target the protein IRAP.

Dr Chai said IRAP was a particularly promising drug target because drugs that block the protein show strong signs of actually halting the disease, in contrast to all current prescribed therapies.

“The only Food and Drug Administration approved drugs for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease all treat the symptoms – the memory loss. There are no drugs on the market that can actually arrest the disease progression,” Dr Chai said.

“Our lab was the first to demonstrate that compounds that block IRAP, the IRAP inhibitors,had memory-enhancing properties but we recently discovered that these compounds also have the ability to stop Alzheimer’s from progressing.”

IRAP inhibitors target one of two pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s – the amyloid plaques which deposit the brain.

“Results show that IRAP inhibitors are not only preventing these plaques being formed, we have early signs that they are actually dissolving some of the existing ones,” Dr Chai said.

Servier has provided funding for the researchers to develop their findings and determine exactly how IRAP inhibitors work to reduce amyloid plaque load in the brain. 

“A number of clinical trials of Alzheimer’s treatments have fallen over, due to unforeseen outcomes,” Dr Chai said.

“With the funding from Servier, we are hoping to reduce that by figuring out exactly how and why these treatments have the effects that they do.”

As part of this collaboration with Servier, Professor Parker will determine the crystal structure of IRAP and develop commercial-grade processes for screening for new chemical entities that inhibit the protein.

Dr Chai has been working in this area for more than 15 years, initially at the Florey Institute and then at Monash. In recent years, the team has been working with Australian company Bio-link to commercialise the research program with funding from Commercialisation Australia.

Although promising, the project is still in its early stages and no new therapies based on IRAP are likely within the next few years.

Monash University.

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