Israeli scientist named Beka Solomon, a professor at Tel Aviv University, made a serendipitous discovery one day when she was testing a new class of agents against Alzheimer’s disease. If it pans out, it might mark the beginning of the end of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and many other neurodegenerative diseases. It’s a remarkable story, and the main character isn’t Solomon or any other scientist but a humble virus that scientists refer to as M13.
Among the many varieties of viruses, there is a kind that only infects bacteria. Known as bacteriophages, or just phages, these microbes are ancient (over three billion years old) and ubiquitous: they’re found everywhere from the ocean floor to human stomachs. The phage M13’s goal is to infect just one type of bacteria, Escherichia coli, or E. coli, which can be found in copious amounts in the intestines of mammals. Like other microorganisms, phages such as M13 have only one purpose: to pass on their genes. In order to do this, they have developed weapons to enable them to invade, take over, and even kill their bacterial hosts. Before the advent of antibiotics, in fact, doctors occasionally used phages to fight otherwise incurable bacterial infections.
M13 phage-treated mice had 80% fewer plaques than untreated ones.
They were able to show the M13 phage dissolved amyloid-beta plaques when the phage was delivered through the rodents’ nasal passages. Over the next two years, researchers at NeuroPhage discovered something totally unexpected: the M13 virus could also dissolve other amyloid aggregates—the tau tangles found in Alzheimer’s and also the amyloid plaques associated with other diseases, including alpha-synuclein (Parkinson’s), huntingtin (Huntington’s disease), and superoxide dismutase (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). The phage even worked against the amyloids in prion diseases (a class that includes Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease). Fisher and his colleagues demonstrated this first in test tubes and then in a series of animal experiments. Astonishingly, the simple M13 virus appeared in principle to possess the properties of a “pan therapy,” a universal elixir of the kind the chemist Chris Dobson had imagined.
The M13 phage’s special abilities involved a set of proteins displayed on the tip of the virus, called GP3.
NPT088 uses GP3 proteins.
NeuroPhage’s lead candidate, NPT088 is a differentiated drug candidate because it targets a variety of toxic misfolded proteins with applications in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and many rare diseases.
Neurophage is a private company launched in 2008 and has raised over $50 million to date from Mérieux Développement, Shire LLC and private investors and foundations.
SOURCES – Neurophage Pharmaceuticals, PBS