So far, research scientists are focusing on a new class of drugs called ampakines, where evidence shows that it could increase
the flow of acetylcholine to the brain and heighten the mind's ability to process information better and even create new memories.
For years, spiritualists have touted the beneficial effects of ginseng (an extract from the leaves of the 200-million-year-old
ginkgo tree). Some studies have claimed that ginseng improves the flow of oxygen to the brain and helps Alzheimers sufferers,
for example, stave off the onset of dementia.
But clinical data are beginning to show that ampakines could wind up making ginseng look like a piker. From a recent study
by New Scientist magazine, research shows that ampakine – tested under the clinical name CX717 at the University of Surrey in the UK — significantly
improved the memories of 16 male study participants between the ages of 18 and 45.
Study researchers, using an ampakine pill developed by California-based Cortex, found that even small doses of the drug improved
study participants' memories even after being kept up all night. The more ampakine the study subjects ingested, the better
their memories tested with study researchers.
Another (May 2004) study, this one by scientists from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, demonstrated in a unique
primate model that the CX717 pill from Cortex improved cognitive performance and also reversed the deleterious effects of
sleep deprivation. The research at Wake Forest provided the basis for conducting a Phase II sleep deprivation study in humans,
which confirmed CX717 improved wakefulness, memory, cognition, and attention without causing systemic stimulation in subjects
that were sleep deprived.
Another memory-enhancement drug, donepezil, is showing both scientific and commercial promise as well. According to a 2005
study by the American Academy of Neurology, the drug may improve the memory of Alzheimers patients and those suffering with
multiple sclerosis (MS).
The study involved 69 people with MS and mild cognitive problems. One-half of the participants took the donepezil for 24 weeks
and the other half took a placebo. The participants were tested for memory and other cognitive functions at the beginning
and end of the study.
At the study's conclusion those taking donepezil improved by an average of 14 percent on the memory test, compared to a 3-percent
improvement for those taking the placebo. And 66 percent of those taking the drug felt that their memory had improved, compared
to 32 percent of those taking the placebo.
"The possibility that memory and cognitive impairment in MS could benefit from drug treatment is of major importance to patients
and their families," said study author and neurologist Lauren Krupp, MD, of Stony Brook University Hospital in New York. "Any
treatment that would enhance their ability to meet the mental challenges of their daily lives would be helpful."
REMEMBERING THE FUTURE
Promising clinical studies are one thing, actual commercial usage on a widespread basis is another. Nothing out there in the
marketplace currently does what memory drug makers claim their products can do — namely cure or halt the disease in which
brain cells deteriorate and die, robbing people of their memory. Drug maker Pharmos knows the feeling. It's efforts to help
the 85,000 Americans who suffer from traumatic brain injury fell short last year with its clinical trial of dexanabinol, which
failed to show statistically significant improvement in a critical late-stage testing program. Investors weren't happy. The
drug had been under development since the mid-1990s at a cost of $50 million. The day after the failed trial, shares of Pharmos
fell 66% to $1.18.
PRESENT DAY DATA
But that was then and this is now. Notably, the pool of potential memory drugs is widening. According to the analyst firm
Datamonitor, there were more than 40 drugs in mid- or late- stage clinical trials and another 100 more in early stages of
development at the beginning of 2005. The firm also reports that future successes may not even come from biopharm behemoths
like Merck or Eli Lilly. Smaller companies like Cortex, Neurochemand, and Axonyx are making the fastest inroads.
So let's recap. The market — remember those 76 million baby boomers? — is most definitely there. The pipeline is filling
up. And the technology is getting better.
On Wall Street total recall is an absolute necessity. If the biopharmaceutical industry can give Main Street a memory drug
that will do what Viagra did for the boomers, believe me, investors will have a long memory.
Celebrity author and business/finance commentator for CNN and Fox News,
Brian O’Connell has written for The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek, 79 Radcliffe Drive, Doylestown, PA 18901, 267.880.3144, fax 267.880.1939, firstname.lastname@example.org