(CN) – A drug company specializing in the development of therapies for degenerative disorders said Wednesday its researchers have identified a bacterial pathogen responsible for the rapid growth of Alzheimer’s disease: Gingivitis, and they’ve created a treatment to neutralize its effect on the brain.
Alzheimer’s disease, which attacks an individual’s memory, is the most common form of dementia – the umbrella term for the hundreds of different conditions that affect the brain.
In a paper published in Science Advances, private pharmaceutical company Cortexyme details the role of Porphyromonas gingivalis – a common bacterium linked to chronic gum disease – in driving Alzheimer’s disease pathology.
After finding the bacterium in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, the international team of researchers found the brains of mice whom they infected with the pathogen had rapid colonization and increased production of amyloid beta, a component associated with Alzheimer’s.
Researchers, led by Cortexyme co-founders Stephen Dominy and Casey Lynch, also announced Wednesday the ongoing development of a molecular compound that targets infectious pathogens tied to neurodegeneration and chronic inflammation in humans.
Dominy said in a statement that while infectious agents have been implicated in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in the past, there has been little evidence to show what specific pathogen causes neurodegeneration.
“Now, for the first time, we have solid evidence connecting the intracellular, Gram-negative pathogen, Pg [Porphyromonas gingivalis], and Alzheimer’s pathogenesis while also demonstrating the potential for a class of small molecule therapies to change the trajectory of disease,” said Dominy.
Cortexyme’s series of small molecule therapies target the pathogen’s toxic proteases in an effort to block its neurotoxicity.
In preclinical experiments detailed in the paper, researchers found that COR388 – the company’s most promising compound – reduced the bacterial load of an established Pg brain infection, blocked amyloid beta production, reduced neuroinflammation, and protected neurons in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that mediates memory.
After the company announced the results of its trial last year, investigators reported the compound was safe and well tolerated in healthy older volunteers and patients with Alzheimer’s disease when given at a range of doses for up to 28 days.
Cortexyme, whose investors include Sequoia Capital, Vulcan Capital and Pfizer, said it plans to initiate a larger clinical trial of COR388 in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease later this year.
Science Advances is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.