So it looks like the entity behind “ALS New Drug” is back, this time with a new website host. The site has been changed so that every page begins with erroneous whining about how ALSUntangled supposedly ended some kind of “charitable funding”. First, that person, persons, or organization has no status as a charity in any country. Second, ALSUntangled has taken no stance on the subject whatsoever because the entity refuses to cooperate whatsoever by revealing any information about itself or the product it promotes.
Let me explain the facts of the situation:
Back in July of 2015 the “als-new-drug.com” domain was purchased by a man in Great Britain named Michael Richards. Apparently around September 2015, the website was put up. A [non-exhaustive] search of the Internet and PubMed reveals no Michael Richards from Essex, Great Britain, involved in neurology or ALS.
In April, 2016, the site was brought to my attention by another PALS. I read through the site and read a lot of claims backed up by absolutely no objective information in the form of links to studies involving the drug in question, no objective or clear information about what the drug actually is or how it works, and no identification of the inventor(s) or the entity promoting the drug. A deep Internet and PubMed search for RCH4 or the “scientific” name given revealed absolutely no hits (very unusual and highly improbable for a real drug that has supposedly been in development for many years). In fact, absolutely no objective information exists about this drug except for the claims made on the website.
After failing to find any corroborating information, my Internet domain information lookup results, and my decades of professional experience identifying Internet scams, I made the initial assessment published on my blog in the post titled “ALS New Drug New Scam?”. Because this had been brought to my attention by another PALS who was considering taking this “treatment” and because other patients were apparently already using it, I felt it was urgent to publish a warning that something was not right about this. I have been publishing this blog for exactly this reason since 2009 and I am known for my understanding of the neuroscience and pharmacology of ALS. That’s one of the reasons I was invited to join the ALSUntangled Review Group.
After I published my initial assessment – based on all the available objective information – I contacted Dr. Bedlack to ask if he knew anything about the subject. He informed me that it was on the list of Open Reviews (I don’t keep the list updated in my memory). Because it’s quite a long list and Dr. Bedlack is busy running a major ALS clinic, he asked if I would be interested in taking the lead in gathering information for this project and writing an initial draft report (something I have previously done multiple times for ALSUntangled). Of course, I agreed to assist. There is no title of “Lead Investigator” for ALSUntangled but I used that in email and forum postings to communicate with others because it’s a more succinct and convenient identification of my association with ALSUntangled. I then sent a request for information to the entity promoting RCH4 at the AOL email address given as contact on the website and began asking for patient experience and information on various forums dedicated to ALS.
The questions I sent to the contact email was the standard set sent to every promoter of an alternative treatment option, plus a few of my own customized to this case which were relevant to the investigation. The questions are:
- What exactly is this drug and how did you discover it?
- How does it work?
- What is published on the mechanism?
- What pre-clinical ALS data are there?
- Are these pre-clinical ALS data published?
- How many patients with ALS have taken this?
- What are you measuring in patients with ALS that take this?
- What happened to those measurements?
- Over what period of time and how often are measurements made?
- Has anyone had any side effects from this drug?
- What percentage of people who take it have any side effects?
- What are the most common side effects?
- What are the most serious side effects and how often did these happen?
- How much do you charge patients for this drug?
- If not why not and how are you capitalized?
- Will you identify the members of your group so that their qualifications can be examined?
These are standard questions that ALSUntangled asks of EVERY promoter of an alternative treatment option. They are intended to gather relevant data so that a scientific evaluation of the substance can be made, and I included the financial question so patients would have some information about the possibility of long-term access. The promoter is always free to not answer any particular question. The entity behind RCH4 reacted instead with hostility – as if the questions were attacks on their very character. Moreover, apparently they have patients sign nondisclosure agreements before any distribution of the drug begins so that automatically increases the difficulty of discovering the truth of the subject. These two facts, along with the lack of any objective information made available on their site or to prospective clients inquiring about it, only reinforces my personal initial assessment that something is very wrong with this entire program.
The entity says that ALSUntangled and/or I made an allegation of some criminality on their part. In fact, ALSUntangled has made no statement of any kind about RCH4 and I merely opined based on all the [still paucity of] currently-available information and my many years of professional training and experience. The entity says I have no medical credentials. This is true, but neither does it. I do have years of dedicated learning and am recognized as an expert on the subject of ALS and treatment options for it. The entity says I have no experience with drug development. This is untrue, as I have experience both in aiding others’ programs and in developing my own via my research organization, SciOpen Research Group. I also have quite a bit of knowledge of the development process from my experience with and founding of WideTrial, my experience with and founding of Hope NOW for ALS (both organizations deal with improving clinical trials and involve dealing with regulatory authorities and pharmaceutical companies). I also have nearly a decade of experience in advocacy and awareness in the ALS space. My record is impeccable and very publicly transparent. I invite the entity promoting RCH4 to exhibit the same public transparency.
The entity says that my blog post warning patients away from whatever RCH4 is somehow cost them their “charitable funding”. I was never contacted by anyone representing themselves as being affiliated with the RCH4 entity. While I realize that I have a reputation in the ALS Community of being knowledgeable, I highly doubt any funding organization would base its decisions on my personal opinion alone. But if for some reason it did, there was obviously very little faith in the RCH4 entity to begin with.
- In July 2015, a domain called “als-new-drug.com” was created and shortly thereafter the website promoting RCH4 was put up on the same URL;
- In April of 2016, I was informed about it and did a personal search on RCH4 and the entity behind it;
- After failing to find any objective information verifying any of the claims on the website or the identity of the entity and/or supporting scientific staff (a situation that persists to this moment), I posted my findings on my personal blog;
- I then communicated with Dr. Bedlack about RCH4 where he asked me to gather information for an ALSUntangled review, including sending the standard questions to the entity promoting RCH4 and asking PALS claiming to be taking RCH4 about their experiences, an activity I began immediately;
- I very quickly learned that PALS were required to execute nondisclosure agreements with the prior to being provided RCH4;
- I received a response from the entity via comment to my blog post full of overly-dramatic wounded pride and a pledge to not cooperate with the ALSUntangled investigation;
- Patients currently using RCH4 were warned by the entity to not cooperate with the ALSUntangled investigation;
- In an effort to smooth any hurt feelings, I recused myself from the investigation – to no avail;
- Shortly thereafter, the website disappeared and the entity apparently began informing patients that continued supply was in jeopardy;
- I received hateful comments from a few patients – including death threats – demanding that I take down my post (as if that would suddenly change anything?);
- The website returned, blaming ALSUntangled and/or me for ruining a “charitable treatment program”.
I made my initial personal assessment based on my many years of professional experience and more recent scientific knowledge, and upon previous public lectures by Dr. Bedlack on how to spot treatment scams. I was not acting on behalf of ALSUntangled but entirely on my own. Afterward, I was asked to gather information for their own review – information which would have been reviewed and discussed before a report is published by the entire group which includes many well-known MDs and PhDs involved in ALS research and treatment. The amount of available objective information has not increased one bit since my initial assessment. I would love to be proven wrong but that would require objective and verifiable information. The RCH4 entity is not only not helping, they are actively resisting all efforts at learning any facts about RCH4. Facts are not just unsubstantiated claims on a website. Facts are independently verifiable objective information. All scientists and doctors, retired or not, understand that they have a duty to first provide scientific rationale and preclinical data about their drug along with a clear description of its chemical makeup before providing it to patients. That is a basic fact about drug development which apparently I know and the RCH4 entity does not.
If the RCH4 entity wants my personal assessment and warning to PALS taken down, they can very easily provide me and/or ALSUntangled with the answers to the questions sent, and allow patients to communicate about their experiences. Until then, my personal blog post will stay up as a warning to PALS to not inject into their bodies an anonymous substance sent by an anonymous source. As stated earlier, I would love to be proven wrong, and indeed welcome it. However, everything so far has proven me right.