Researchers hunting for treatments for Alzheimer’s disease often jokingly refer to themselves as either “Baptists” or “Tauists.” The Baptists believe a protein called beta amyloid, or BAP is the main culprit because it forms the brain plaques thought to contribute to loss of memory and other hallmarks of Alzheimer’s. Tauists say the tau protein is actually the bad actor, because it causes abnormal tangles inside cells that interfere with the transporting of nutrients and other vital substances in the brain.
Daniel Chain, CEO of New York-based Intellect Neurosciences (OTCBB: ILNS) is an Alzheimer’s agnostic. “I was an early Baptist, but I also recognize that tau is an important player,” he says. On February 7, Intellect filed three patents on a new therapeutic vaccine that’s designed to clear toxic forms of both beta amyloid and tau from the brain.
For Chain, keeping an open mind has been key to keeping his 15-year-old company alive. He has spent millions defending an early patent portfolio on an Alzheimer’s technology he invented, secured a range of sometimes risky financial instruments, and most recently, found a new use for an Alzheimer’s compound that resulted in a potentially lucrative partnering deal. Throughout, Intellect has become a study in biotech survival—a company that has been rescued from the brink of death so many times Chain himself seems surprised it’s still around. “What is 15 years in the Valley of Death?” he asks. “What I’ve learned is you’ve just got to take money whenever it’s available, in whatever form it’s available, and just deal with it. The important thing is to survive.”
Chain founded his company as Mindset Pharmaceuticals in 1997 on a patented technology for using engineered proteins called monoclonal antibodies to remove beta amyloid protein from the brain without affecting healthy tissues. In 2001, Chain got a call from the head of business development at Wyeth asking if he would be interested in selling the patent, he recalls. Chain refused to sell it, but he did license the technology to Wyeth’s development partner, Elan (NYSE: ELN), which incorporated it into bapineuzumab, a highly anticipated Alzheimer’s drug being developed by Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), Elan, and Pfizer (NYSE: PFE), which now owns Wyeth. The drug is now in late-stage clinical trials.
But maintaining the patents—and using the company’s expertise to develop its own pipeline of Alzheimer’s compounds—was a challenge for Chain. He raised $8 million in venture capital, but then investors backed out of … Next Page »