My readers know that I have serious differences with the ALS Association (ALSA). However, my promise to deliver the truth (though bathed in hope in the delivery) cuts both ways. When something good happens, no matter who is behind it, I must give kudos to the deserving.
The 2014 social media phenomenon known as the Ice Bucket Challenge marked a seminal moment in the history of public awareness of ALS and in funding for research. Since then, PALS have been demanding that ALSA actually use that money rather than sitting on it. It now appears that ALSA is finally indeed mobilizing a little of that money (about $3M or 2.5%) on two wise and popular targets. This is good news, although there is a slight catch…
ALSA is helping fund a Phase 3 of the Cytokinetics drug tirasemtiv and a Phase 2B of Neuraltus’ drug NP001. Tirasemtiv is a muscular activator, meaning it causes the muscles to react more strongly than normal to a neural input. Tirasemtiv does nothing to halt the death of the motor neurons, but it can let PALS have more independence for longer than without it. NP001 is a highly purified and pH-balanced form of sodium chlorite that reverts the chronic inflammatory attack on the neurons back to a pro-growth state. Some of you might remember our dear departed friends Rob Tison and Ben Harris who experienced remarkable results during the Phase 2A. Now we know why: Based on inflammatory biomarkers discovered in post-hoc analysis, Neuraltus believes it has found a responder subgroup and is restricting the Phase 2B to those patients. I expect very good news from the 2B.
[UPDATE (07-13-2015) From my friend Jenica Lancy at ALSA GoldenWest: Today, The ALS Association announced its support of 58 new research grants totaling $11,621,638 to find treatments and a cure for ALS. The research awards announced today include investigator-initiated grants, drug development contracts, Milton Safenowitz Postdoctoral Fellowships and support of the NEALS/TREAT ALS™ Clinical Trials Network. You can see a full list of the grants here.]
Now for the catch: What ALSA is really doing is funding operations at one of the clinics which promote and direct funding toward ALSA. Both trials will be conducted by that clinic (the excellent Forbes-Norris ALS Clinic in San Francisco).
However, the fact remains that ALSA is supporting two very promising clinical trials. Some of us might wish they would do more, sooner, but they are moving in the right direction. I believe the proper response should be “Thanks! Keep it up!”. Let’s all applaud ALSA and encourage further progress along this path.