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'Memory Drugs' Still Need Years of Testing

January 11, 1994|STEVE EMMONS

Ampakine, the drug that helped rats learn and remember in experiments conducted at UC Irvine, has a long way to go before it can be prescribed for humans.

Developers hope that the drug will reduce memory loss in mild cases of dementia, such as early Alzheimer's disease.

JoAnn McConnell of the Alzheimer's Assn. says it's "very theoretical" that the drug will help Alzheimer's patients. "The big problem in Alzheimer's is the (brain) cells are dying," McConnell says. "Even if you improve communication between them, it isn't going to prevent them from dying."

Tests on people are expected to begin in mid-1994.

The chemical--developed by brain scientists Gary Lynch of UC Irvine, Gary Rogers of UC Santa Barbara and Ursula Staubli of New York University--creates a new class of drug believed to work directly on the brain process that creates memory. Cognex, the only drug now approved for treatment of Alzheimer's disease, works indirectly by blocking enzymes that destroy substances needed for memory.

Allan A. Steigrod, president of Cortex Pharmaceuticals of Irvine, said that even if all tests are successful, it will be at least five years before his firm can market the drug.

Cortex is developing the drug under license from the University of California. The firm, created in 1987, includes Lynch and two other UC Irvine professors--Carl W. Cotman and Ralph A. Bradshaw--among its founders.

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