UR Researcher Forms Biotech Company to Develop New Class of Alzheimer's Treatments

July 30, 2003

With $7 million in start-up funding from a California-based investor, a scientist at the University of Rochester Medical Center has formed a biotechnology company to develop new treatments for Alzheimer's disease.

The company, Socratech L.L.C., is being created around the research of Berislav V. Zlokovic, M.D., Ph.D., a researcher in the Center for Aging and Developmental Biology, part of the Aab Institute of Biomedical Sciences. During Socratech's start-up period it is leasing a 1,000 square foot laboratory at the Medical Center where five full-time employees have begun work.

Since the early 1980s Zlokovic has been studying the role of the brain's blood vessels in diseases such as stroke, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease. A series of studies he conducted recently have led him to believe that damaged blood vessels in the brain may be at the root of Alzheimer's disease - and may have been overlooked by scientists as a potential cause of the disease.

In addition to supplying blood to the brain, the brain's blood vessels act as a sophisticated filter that prevents toxins - such as chemical pollutants in air and water that find their way into our bodies - from reaching our brain cells. While the body has several ways of cleansing itself of toxins, the blood vessels in the brain are the last line of defense that keeps toxic chemicals from reaching our brain cells.

Zlokovic has found that in some patients with Alzheimer's disease there are signs of damage to the walls of the brain's blood vessels. Though not severe enough to block blood flow, the damage may prevent the blood vessels from filtering toxins and performing other vital functions that keep brain cells brain cells healthy.

"What we believe is happening in Alzheimer's disease is that the blood-brain barrier is compromised, and common environmental toxins are slowly poisoning the brain," said Zlokovic. "In addition, the blood vessels become unable to perform other functions that help to nourish brain cells and protect them from chemical injury."

Zlokovic's research team has identified several genes that may be responsible for damage to the blood vessels and will publish details of the gene discoveries in the spring. Socratech has filed for patents on the genes and on any drugs or diagnostic tests that may result from the gene discoveries. In the meantime, scientists at Socratech will work toward developing drugs that target those genes. They will also work to develop genetic tests that will allow doctors to diagnose Alzheimer's disease and administer treatment years before first symptoms occur.

Socratech is the latest in a series of biotech companies that have been spun-off by UR researchers. Two additional start-ups are expected to be announced this year.

"The term 'start-up' is in the vocabulary of our scientists. Socratech is a perfect example of that entrepreneurial mindset," said Jay H. Stein, M.D., UR Medical Center and Strong Health CEO. "You're going to see new, local companies like Socratech and Rtek being spun-off of our research program on a regular basis."

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