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UC San Diego announced today that researchers at the university’s School of Medicine have been awarded a $1 million, five-year grant to fast-track development of a new Alzheimer’s disease therapy. The grant is one of seven given by the National Institutes of Health’s $50 million Blueprint for Neuroscience Research.

“The idea is to take the drug all the way through a Phase 1 clinical trial,” said Steven Wagner, PhD, principal investigator and a project scientist at UCSD’s Department of Neurosciences. He added that the rigorous testing involved in producing new medicine “often spell[s] the end of drug development in academia because there isn’t anywhere near adequate funding at the university level.”

“More often than not, new strategies for treating nervous-system disorders die on the vine from a lack of resources needed to translate a promising idea into an effective therapy,” said William Mobley, MD, PhD, and chair of the Department of Neurosciences. Only 10 to 20 percent of new pharmaceutical treatments for all diseases reach the clinical trial phase.

The focus of research for Wagner and his colleagues is on a series of compounds they’ve identified, called gamma-secretase modulators, which “reduce only those protein fragments believed to play a critical role in the brain cell death and dementia that occurs in Alzheimer’s disease,” according to a news release. This is hoped to provide improved treatment as compared to current drugs, which cause side effects including nausea, cognitive impairment, and skin cancer.

Based on the UCSD group’s progress over the five-year span of the grant, millions in additional federal funding could be provided to continue their work.

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