Thanks to funding and some strategic ‘match-making’ by the MND Association, a new drug may have taken one step closer to beginning clinical trials in MND after producing promising results in an animal model of the disease.
The drug, known as Cogane, was developed by the biotechnology company Phytopharm. It had already demonstrated in laboratory tests that it could help to protect neurones by promoting the production of natural, nerve nourishing substances called neurotrophic factors and early animal testing had hinted at its potential beneficial effects in MND. However, its journey towards clinical testing in MND had hit a road block because it hadn’t been extensively put through its paces in large numbers of the most widely used animal model of the disease, the SOD1 mouse. Without robust data from this model, there would have been little to encourage further investment in Cogane’s development.
So up stepped the Association to introduce Phytopharm to Professor Linda Greensmith at University College London, a leading MND researcher with considerable expertise in SOD1 mouse testing. With funding from the Association, Prof Greensmith and her team were able to conduct a rigorous study of the effects of Cogane, administered to the mice after they had developed MND-like symptoms.
The drug produced some significant improvements in muscle strength and motor neurone survival and managed to produce positive effects even in mice that had reached the later stages of the disease. To give more substance to these preliminary but very encouraging results, the research team will now go on to the painstaking work of examining more closely Cogane’s effects on the motor neurones and other key cells that play a critical role in the progression of MND.
After the disappointment of the Trophos trial results, it’s great to be able to share some positive news on the drug development front. We know from long experience that it’s wise to limit our excitement over positive results from the mouse model – after all, plenty of drugs have shown promise at this stage and have then gone on to fail in clinical trials. However, Prof Greensmith’s experience and expertise mean that Cogane will have been tested with the utmost rigor. As she herself commented, the results indicate that “Cogane has significant potential as a therapy for ALS and merits further evaluation”. We don’t yet know what Phytopharm’s next steps will be – these may become clearer once the more detailed data from Prof Greensmith’s work have been published, which could take the best part of a year. Let’s hope that we have a given Cogane enough of a boost to push it out of the drug development ‘doldrums’.