Tag Archives: social media

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ALS-New-Drug-New-Scam? – Redux

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:

  1. What exactly is this drug and how did you discover it?
  2. How does it work?
  3. What is published on the mechanism?
  4. What pre-clinical ALS data are there?
  5. Are these pre-clinical ALS data published?
  6. How many patients with ALS have taken this?
  7. What are you measuring in patients with ALS that take this?
  8. What happened to those measurements?
  9. Over what period of time and how often are measurements made?
  10. Has anyone had any side effects from this drug?
  11. What percentage of people who take it have any side effects?
  12. What are the most common side effects?
  13. What are the most serious side effects and how often did these happen?
  14. How much do you charge patients for this drug?

Additionally:

  1. If not why not and how are you capitalized?
  2. 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.

To recap:

  • 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.

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TransFatty Lives – a film review

Last Saturday evening I watched TransFatty Lives and was stunned by the unique method of simultaneously telling two stories. The first story is his slow but inevitable descent into total quadriplegia following a diagnosis of ALS and the second is writing a time capsule letter to his son to explain his absence and inability to participate deeply in his son’s life. The film was scattered with amazing images showing POB’s delightful deliberate eccentricity and with scenes both hilarious and disturbing. Some scenes were personally disturbing as I remembered my own experience with that phase of decline. Others were colorful and outrageous in a way only Patrick could make them.

TransFatty Lives is a perfect film for seeing the effects of a fatal diagnosis on a young hedonistic man. As he faces each step of decline he becomes a little more introspective and gains more awareness of the value of the little moments that give life its value. How POB takes the viewer along reveals his genius – you don’t know you have learned something until the next scene begins.

Even more than “The Theory of Everything” or “You’re Not You”, “Transfatty Lives” is the most important film involving ALS. The faithful and honest treatment of both the horror and triumph which is ALS, and the amazingly creative style of POB, makes this a must-see for all PALS and CALS and their families. It should also be widely promoted for all people worldwide. Even for those for whom ALS is just a disease named for some baseball player, this is a wonderful film about human trial, triumph, survival, and love.

This film is amazing to experience. It is much more than a simple documentary. I easily rate this 5 stars, two thumbs up, one poop, etc. Rent or buy this film immediately and have a viewing party.

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Liquid Hope

Usually a new hole in your stomach is bad news, often being either an ulcer or the result of some sort of violence. But for some, properly done, it’s a way to keep fed if the more normal method is no longer available. The question then is what to put through the hole. Obviously it would need to be in liquid form, but one can’t live just on beer alone (and I have tried…). Thankfully, there is a much better alternative.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease) is a disease outwardly characterized by loss of muscular strength. People coping with diagnosis (PALS – Person(s) with ALS) experience a progressive loss of muscular control as the nerves communicating brain commands to those muscles die. Eventually a specific muscle, the diaphragm, becomes weakened and breathing capacity is diminished. After progressive weakening of the diaphragm, breathing capacity diminishes to the point that blood carbon dioxide levels rise and the person dies of respiratory failure.

Although no two PALS experience the same progression pattern (I call us “Snowflakes From Hell”), usually another important – yet overlooked – muscle group is impacted before the diaphragm. This muscle group is commonly known as the tongue. When the back of the tongue loses strength, it can no longer efficiently create the pre-swallow bolus made up of the food being chewed and it can also no longer guard the airway against intrusion of food below the mouth before the epiglottis closes the trachea and opens the esophagus. This creates a choking situation with the increased possibility of aspiration pneumonia. Obviously both the choking and pneumonia represent substantial threats to life, especially for those with compromised respiratory function. Not only are choking and aspiration both hazards, but the lack of proper nutrition from not being able to eat is a dire handicap in the battle against ALS.

Fortunately for people in such a situation of lingual weakness, such as PALS in mid and late stages, medical science has created the PEG tube. This is a silicone rubber tube a little larger around than your typical drinking straw. It provides a direct route to the stomach and can dramatically lower one’s bar bill (because you don’t taste, you can switch from top-shelf to well brands…). PEG tubes are actually essential tools in “treatment” of ALS by keeping up optimum nutritional (including caloric) content.

Unfortunately, the “medical formulas” many patients are told to exclusively use – such as Nestle COMPLEAT – are based almost entirely on corn syrup for calories, which is the glucose base version of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS – the difference between the two is that HFCS is much sweeter, thus being attractive to processed food manufacturers). Basically, each can is a candy bar with a multivitamin in the middle. We have all heard the news about the perils of excessive sugar intake and how it, in the form of HFCS, is pervasive in processed foods. Eliminating HFCS and still eating just as much glucose sugar, especially as a sole source of calories, is equally harmful.

As I have previously blogged, using these medical formulas for any prolonged period is very risky in terms of your pancreas. I am an otherwise extremely healthy [formerly] athletic man with zero endocrine or any other confounding health issues. Nevertheless, using the traditional “medical formula” every day for two years put me in the ICU for a few days with a severe diabetic and hepatic crisis. I took control of my treatment plan and eliminated the corn syrup by switching from formula to real food (something which hospital dieticians tell patients to NOT do).

Clearly, the traditional enteral nutrition sources are not meant for long-term use. Until recently, most PALS died relatively shortly after diagnosis. This meant a few months of solely enteral nutrition weren’t going to pose a problem. But now, with better care and with adaptive technology better able to restore lost abilities, PALS are living longer post-diagnosis. I am one of those, going past 10 years post-diagnosis. Obviously better nutritional products are required. After taking personal control of my feeding, choosing fresh food blended together with a combination of healthy sources of fat, my blood glucose, liver, and kidney functions all normalized.

Not all PALS have either the ability to make their own blenderized food (is that really a word?) or have people who can make food for them which meets their nutritional and caloric needs. Just opening a can of soup is insufficient, as almost all processed food contains unacceptable levels of sodium, HFCS, etc. Further, PALS have certain requirements such as higher fat and calories. Getting those from improper sources can be hazardous. So what can we do?

Liquid Hope is here! This is a product created as a reaction to the terrible content of the traditional formula and the negative effect on health they can have. It is basically fresh food in a pouch that meets the needs of those with special dietary concerns (dairy free, gluten free, non-GMO, etc.). It’s a full meal replacement suitable for PALS as-is, but can be mixed with avocado, coconut oil, or other healthy fat source to boost calories for those PALS experiencing dramatic weight loss. My readers can learn more about the development of Liquid Hope here.

Even though I was getting mostly fresh food, I was interested in trying out Liquid Hope. The good people at Functional Formularies agreed to supply me a 7 day supply. From the very first meal I felt great! I was fully satisfied as if I had just had a good meal at our local vegetarian restaurant (I really miss their vegetarian lasagna). After 48 hours, I had more than my usual energy, I felt clear, and I was much more regular (constipation is a frequent issue for PALS). I only added a couple tablespoons of coconut oil along with some protein and vitamin additives, like I do all my meals. I was really sad to see the last pouch go down.

In my semi-expert opinion, Liquid Hope is a fantastic enteral nutrition solution and far superior to the usual cans of “medical formula”. I am greatly looking forward to switching fully to Liquid Hope for my nutritional needs. It’s now covered by Medicare*, Functional Formularies can help with the paperwork, and my first regular shipment is on its way!

I have been watching and talking about Liquid Hope on social media for a while. Frequent readers and friends know that I am extremely anti-“medical formula” and push patients to make fresh food for their enteral nutritional needs. Now that Liquid Hope is covered by Medicare* and is provided by a growing network of enteral nutrition providers, I call on all PALS to try it and use it. Let Nestle make snacks, not food staples. PALS have a serious medical condition requiring real nutrition. Take care of yourselves. Either blend fresh (not freshly-opened) food or use an organic and healthy product such as Liquid Hope.

* [So long as you aren’t in what’s known as a competitive bid area. The problem with being in one, in my opinion, is that the reimbursement to providers is based purely on lowest-price, keeping the better products from being available. I can explain the political aspects but that’s an entirely different subject not appropriate for this blog.]

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WordPressure

Wow.. I spent two days working to get a favicon to appear in the browser and use the same image (the original source for the 16×16 .ico file) for the Facebook image override (it normally pulls a random image from the website). No WordPress plugin worked at all so I had to discover what Facebook wanted (Open Graph meta tags in the <head> section) using Facebook Debugger (https://developers.facebook.com/tools/debug/og/object/) and insert my own tags in the child-theme’s header.php file:

<meta property=”og:url” content=”http://www.ericvalor.org/” />
<meta property=”og:image” content=”http://www.ericvalor.org/…/blogpic300x300…” />
<meta property=”og:site_name” content=”EricValor.org” />
<meta property=”og:title” content=”EricValor.org” />
<meta property=”og:description” content=”The Web Home of Eric N. Valor” />
<link rel=”shortcut icon” href=”<?php echo get_stylesheet_directory_uri(); ?>/favicon.ico” />

That was a very frustrating experience but I did learn a lot more about manipulating WordPress than I wanted at the moment…

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Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes…

This is my last blog post at Friends4Eric.

I have decided to change my home domain to EricValor.org and in the process consolidate the blog directly into the website. The new website allows me to bring a much better website experience to you. Over the year, I expect to add more information content, including a calendar of events such as a calendar of select events and other information of high interest.

Thew new website address is www.ericvalor.org and the direct address to the blog is www.ericvalor.org/erics-blog. I believe I was able to bring all the subscribers over automatically but please excuse any errors and/or hiccups. Although my old domain will redirect to the new, this blog address won’t, so please update your bookmarks!

If you are reading this on www.ericvalor.org you are all good…

Thank you all for your and I look forward to a few more years of service to you all – until we finally have a cure!

– ENV

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Hope Now for ALS

There has been a lot of recent controversy surrounding the experimental treatment in clinical trials known as GM604. A lot of misinformation has been tossed around on both sides of the issue. I want to beg your attention for a little while to explain what’s really going on.

First, as many of you know, I was the single late-stage PALS who received GM6 in compassionate use. The intent behind this was to get a look at differences in biomarker candidate levels between earlier-stage and late-stage PALS. Any outward physical manifestation of improved condition noticed would be a bonus and, due to my advanced condition, no improvement in condition was expected. Nevertheless, Genervon and I came up with the idea to try to chart improvements in the tongue. The rationale is that since my tongue is only moderately affected, and because the hypoglossal nerve contains one of the shortest motor neurons in the body, any possible improvement would be noticed there first.

Because of my growing cooperative relationship with Genervon dating back to my first blog post on GM6, I was granted the only Expanded Access outside of trial. They were interested in getting a look at GM6 behavior in late-stage PALS and I had proven to them my organizational skills in preparing my own medical surveillance team and in communications by preparing the mechanism for data capture. Even a single Expanded Access Program can be a burden on such a small company not optimized for such work. My knowledge and experience gained over the past few years was of considerable help in filling out and transmitting (and following up on) my own paperwork.

Thousands of single Expanded Access requests would be overly burdensome and even if Genervon enlisted the help of the ALS Emergency Treatment Fund, the maximum number of patients who would be able to participate would be measured in the few hundreds. Not only would patients have to pay for drug but would also have to pay for their own medical surveillance team and at least one hospital visit for the first infusion (this alone represents several thousand dollars). If you are required to give biological samples, the cost tops $10,000.

Genervon shared with me much of the top-level data from the Phase 2 to compare against my own data. Even though the trial population was small, the data were stronger in separation between treatment/placebo cohorts than in any legitimate trial results I had seen before. And GM6 was demonstrated safe over a much larger group spread over three different neurological diseases (including ALS) plus a healthy safety group. For these reasons I suggested to and worked with Genervon on applying for the FDA Accelerated Approval Program in order to get GM6 to all PALS paid for by insurance and Medicare.

And thus began the shitstorm…

Researchers, neurologists, and leaders of certain advocacy organizations who believe in the FDA’s 60 year old regulatory formula – comprised of designing, completing, and analyzing Phase 1, 2, 3 trials over a period of 5-15 years – are failing in their proclaimed mission. They simply have to stop regarding patients as helpless victims willing to eat rat poison if someone said it cured ALS, Genervon as somehow the 19th Century snake oil salesman, and themselves as the White Knight riding to our rescue. The very process of obtaining an experimental drug requires a lot of medical oversight, which we appreciate and rely on. However, patients are intelligent adults whose only desire is to change the status quo of scientific research for the benefit of both the current and future generations of PALS.

The 1992 FDA Accelerated Approval Program (AAP) was designed to meet the needs of patient populations where there is an urgent and unmet need. In 2012, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act (FDASIA), strengthening the agency’s ability to advance public health by equipping the FDA with tools intended to expedite the development and review of innovative new medicines that address certain unmet medical needs. Among the objectives, Title IX expanded the scope of products that qualify for accelerated approval. Specific language in this law states that the FDA is to incorporate novel approaches to the review of surrogate endpoints based on pathophysiologic and pharmacologic evidence in such guidance, especially in instances where the low prevalence of a disease renders the existence or collection of other types of data unlikely or impractical. It is obvious that Congress and the President had in mind diseases just like ALS when passing and signing FDASIA into law, yet the FDA has done very little to incorporate these guidelines.

With Congress now discussing the 21st Century Cures Act, we at Hope Now for ALS believe that we are on the right side of history by insisting that PALS are given opportunities to access new investigational treatments through the FDA’s Accelerated Approval Program which, with its requirement for post-marketing Phase 4 data surveillance to confirm efficacy and safety, will continue to provide invaluable data on new treatments for ALS. As most patients are ineligible for standard clinical trials, this is our only option to contribute to research that will provide the same data at a faster rate among a larger population of patients – providing much needed data on subsets of the patient population. The Phase 4 requirements of Accelerated Approval also have the ability to save billions of dollars in research that is better spent developing more new and better investigational treatments for a myriad of neurological conditions.

I will grant that the biomarker candidates are new and not yet “proven”, but FDA did allow them as endpoints in the Phase 2. They are not brand-new fabrications by Genervon and are backed by a lot of recent research by respected researchers. And they were all quite uniform in response to GM6 while the placebo group all continued in the abnormal direction. In my n=1 case report the biomarker candidates sometimes went in the reverse direction, but ALWAYS TOWARD NORMAL LEVELS. This is a great indication that GM6 promotes neuronal homeostasis – the holy grail for ALS research.

The Phase 2 was indeed also only a very small population, and in previous ALS trials of similar size it was impossible to collect reliable efficacy data in such a small cohort. However, this trial was very different from previous trials. The effect registered was much larger than in previous such trials (especially dexpramipexole) and was backed up by multiple secondary measurements not subject to any placebo effect. The combination of surprisingly-large effect size and objective biological markers sets this aside from previous trials (which also used the ALSFRS almost exclusively). There was an erroneous though well-intentioned attempt to use the released FVC information as evidence of poor trial design. However, the comparison used a very inappropriate analogy population and was built on an assumption based on incorrect data.

I do have serious issues with a point used in arguments against GM6: The lithium debacle. The media reports which came out obviously created a lot of excitement within the patient community. Our first reaction was asking and pleading the research community to quickly follow up with more trials to confirm that study and the response from the research committee was absolute disinterest. Therefore the patient community took it upon themselves to create a verification study, which we did. We did *NOT* merely go out and start using lithium off-label. In fact, it was only after our trial data was being released that the research community decided to do a confirmation study. By then we had already demonstrated that lithium had no effect in ALS and begged the research community to not waste time and millions of dollars.

But again, the research community ignored the patient community.

The Hope Now for ALS movement isn’t for GM6 to skip the regulatory process. It’s to get FDA to use its existing programs and Congressional mandate to provide potentially life-saving treatment to PALS. This is especially important now that truly-effective treatments are very near (including NP001, Neurown, etc.). Caution is obviously warranted but ALS is a race against a clock that doesn’t care. More aggressive strategy is thus required which necessitates a little less caution and a lot more courage.

In summary, the facts are:

  • Genervon asked FDA for Accelerated Approval at the post-Phase 2 meeting where they presented the complete trial data plus the case report for my Compassionate Use project. I know this to be true because I co-wrote the cover letter to the data package and it specifically asked for Accelerated Approval (and it was me who urged Genervon to pursue AAP).
  • The FDA should have responded with specific instructions on how to file. They did not and thus we were all left in a state of confusion. Then FDA took the unusual step of calling on Genervon to publicly release proprietary data. Genervon has no duty to do so and FDA has no authority to make such a request.
  • Genervon has perfectly complied with law and regulation. All they want is to help and they believe GM6 can do that. The data so far looks good (and I can say that, having actually seen it where all others commenting otherwise have not). It’s not a slam-dunk, but it’s positive and safe enough that I think all PALS should have access to it – not just those eligible for clinical trial.
  • The FDA Accelerated Approval Program, in place since 1992 to deal with fatal diseases for which no other treatments exist, is the best way to save lives. It opens access WHILE CLINICAL TRIALS STILL CONTINUE. It’s used for cancer and other diseases with less-severe prognosis. Why not ALS?
  • GM6 has a perfect safety record in over 50 patients across 3 separate neurological conditions plus a healthy initial safety cohort.
  • This is about patients deciding for themselves what risk to take in treatment. This is NOT about a company trying to avoid the clinical trial process or enrich itself on patients desperation. The AAP is an existing program which gives patients access to potentially life-saving treatment while collecting the valuable efficacy data.
  • Contrast Genervon’s completely legal and transparent actions to other companies marketing unproven products such as lunasin and aimspro directly to patients using email. Those companies use slick pitches with “proof” based purely on non-accepted metrics and anecdotes.
  • The movement behind GM6 is entirely grassroots.

The above are facts. All of the “expert opinion” going around is just biased speculation.

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Scuttle Rebuttal

I am a little peeved at a new attack on the push for FDA’s Accelerated Approval Program for the ALS treatment called GM6 (known as GM604 in clinical trials). This attack basically follows the same line as the one from the ALS Association (and in fact incorporated it by reference). Both are sloppy and disingenuous in style and content. They attempt false comparison to other previously-failed trials without including the reasons for those previous failures and they also try a very clumsy smear by comparison to an act of intentional clinical fraud. I am disappointed that such comparisons are presented to a public looking for facts as well as hope.

First let me discuss the false comparison to previous trial:

  1. The comparisons are false primarily because the old trials exclusively used the ALS Functional Rating Scale (ALSFRS) which is a horrible metric by even the most generous interpretation. This is the only way a call for large trials can be justified, because the numb insensitivity of the ALSFRS (even the Revised version) requires such to make any kind of meaningful conclusion in a heterogeneous disease like ALS. However, the GM6 trial used several biomarker candidates and other objective clinical measurements as surrogate end-points (keep that phrase in mind) which correlated which the subjective end-points such as the ALSFRS-R. The biomarkers used were suggested and evaluated by Dr. Robert Bowser, a 2015 winner of the Sheila Essey Award for significant research contributions to fighting ALS.
  2. Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), one of the neurotrophic factors listed in Dr. Dickie’s post, doesn’t cross the Blood Brain Barrier (BBB). It’s almost impossible to get a therapeutic dose into the patient without an intrathecal infusion (directly into spine) using a pump over time. This has numerous obvious drawbacks. It’s also very unclear whether a single neurotrophic factor is useful in ALS, which encompasses a host of deficiencies.
  3. Cilliary Neurotrophic Factor (CNTF) does cross the BBB and early animal model tests indicated efficacy. However, two human trials in 1996 using subcutaneous delivery and intrathecal delivery as well as a review in 2004 revealed no efficacy in lower doses and serious side-effects at high doses. It’s also important to note that the animal data came well before the excellent work ALSTDI did characterizing the extreme difficulties in using that model. Any ALS mouse data released prior to 2009 (and any subsequent found to not strictly follow those guidelines) should be considered suspect. I have personal knowledge of the difficulty in using this model and the false-positive data which can result from improper use.
  4. Next, Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) also crosses the BBB but has a very very short biological half-life, meaning it is broken down and excreted in a matter of hours. That makes therapeutic levels almost impossible to maintain. A form was created with a buffering agent attached to IGF-1 which roughly doubled the half-life but even that was woefully inadequate. Anyone who remembers the IPLEX debacle of a few years ago knows the story.

The comparisons to such single-target neurotrophic factors as BDNF, CNTF, and IGF-1 are therefore flawed in logic and fact. It is very disingenuous for Dr. Dickie to compare GM6 to them as GM6 is a master regulator and acts in 12 relevant pathways simultaneously. This information is already in the public domain freely available for anyone to look up.

Next, Dr. Dickie compares the GM6 results with those of the initial results of NP001 (actually he links to his own blog post where he addresses the anecdotal reports which came before the official results were published). What he failed to mention was the updated post-hoc analysis which showed a halt of disease progression in 27% of patients in the trial. Further, the analysis showed statistically significant evidence of two biomarkers which identified responding sub-groups. This is a tremendous achievement in ALS clinical trial history. Unfortunately the biomarkers aren’t the same in the GM6 trial so the comparison of the two is incomplete at best. The only real similarity is that both trials used biomarkers as secondary end-points. However, the GM6 trial used them in a way that didn’t require post-hoc analysis.

The comparison with lithium is especially troubling. First, it was far from “recent”, with patient excitement starting in 2007. You can find the data collected in the first PALS-led and created clinical trial which coincidentally also involved lithium. What both ALSA and MNDA failed to report about the study which started the excitement (“Fornai, et al., 2008”) was that the study essentially “cooked the books” by assigning PALS with slow progression of disease to the treatment group while putting the more standard PALS in the placebo group. This was revealed only after the paper was published. In the GM6 trial, run by two leading and internationally well-respected ALS researchers and clinicians, all participants were randomly assigned to receive either drug or placebo. The only way the comparison to the lithium study would be accurate is if the researchers deliberately placed certain patients in each cohort. Genervon merely supplied GM6. The trial was run and data collected by the two principle investigators (fancy name for doctors who run clinical trials). The analysis was then also done by a contract research facility. So any implication that Genervon somehow fabricated the data is false and besmirches the reputations of two prominent ALS doctors.

It must be noted and repeated that the standard FDA clinical trial practice is indeed extremely important in terms of protecting the public from the unscrupulous. The collection of objective scientific data is the foundation of good medical care. Nobody calling for the Accelerated Approval of GM6 disputes this. However, because ALS is so rapidly and uniformly fatal, we are calling for FDA to utilize the discretion it was granted in the face of an earlier similar crisis (the AIDS epidemic). Further, we call on everyone to realize that the GM6 trial used much more than the ALSFRS as a metric and thus smaller trial populations are much more statistically significant than before. The other end-points used in the Phase 2 are objective and not subject to placebo effect. Therefore, the indication of efficacy observed in the trial should be considered stronger than in previous trials which relied almost solely on the ALSFRS.

The Accelerated Approval Program was created to bridge the gap between the need for data and the urgent unmet needs of patients with rapidly-fatal diseases. The GM6 trial was unique in the strength of the preliminary efficacy signal, largely due to the objective biomarker end-points used. Just like the early days AIDS crisis, PALS have no meaningful treatment options and thus no hope. We want to use the very FDA program created to deal with that situation. We admit the need for more scientific data. But we don’t want to die while it’s collected.

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Condition Green

As many of you might already know, I was the late-stage PALS mentioned in the recent Genervon press release. I got interested in this drug some time ago, did some research on it and wrote a blog post about it. I had contacted the company, Genervon, to get information for my post. Thereafter, a dialogue was maintained regarding clinical trial status and future development plans. Being that I am a late stage PALS and still extremely active in awareness, advocacy, and science, they agreed to my request for compassionate use. It was another 9 months going through the process of authorization (mostly because my local hospital had never done anything like this before and together we created a new protocol).

During that time the Phase 2A results came out and I was given access to some of the data. Those, combined with my own experience, gave me the satisfaction that this drug was safe and quite likely effective. I share the concerns about trial size, but like all PALS am concerned for the time required to go through the usual phases of clinical trials. The clinical trial program actually has four parts:

  • Phase 1 – single dose usually in healthy subjects for gauging safety
  • Phase 2 – use in actual patients looking at safety and initial efficacy
  • Phase 3 – larger patient population with different doses, efficacy and SAEs
  • Phase 4 – market surveillance for adverse events

Not only does it take time to fully enroll and execute a large clinical trial but it takes even more time to secure the funding necessary to begin each phase. This is especially true in this current era of venture capital avoiding biotech investment.

I have helped launch other initiatives to get PALS access to experimental treatments. It is critical that patients get more than one or perhaps two chances at early access to treatment while they are newly diagnosed. Drugs that are possibly effective must be made broadly available to patients who are facing otherwise-certain death. Based on the safety and the indication of efficacy in GM6 (mainly borne of my personal experience), I got behind the effort to seek what FDA calls Accelerated Approval so that many more PALS can try it and see where it takes us. Accelerated Approval requires full data surveillance for efficacy, not just serious adverse events (SAEs). The efficacy data determines whether final approval is made. Basically, Accelerated Approval is like a Phase 3 where patients/insurance pay for participation. I believe all PALS would gladly participate in such a program.

If the wider data don’t support the continued use of GM6 I will be the first to admit it. But right now I believe GM6 has the capability to effectively treat ALS in a way no previous drug ever has. And I want to get that opportunity as quickly as possible to as many PALS as possible.

After publishing the press release and posting it on social media and online forums, another PALS started a petition to the FDA to demonstrate the support in the ALS Community for this Accelerated Approval. I would like to urge all who are concerned about ALS – PALS/CALS/Friends – to sign this petition and share it among your social circles. At that link you can sign the petition and post comments to be included with your name. You can also find links to email Senators who oversee FDA and proposed text for those messages.

It is imperative that the comments left on the petition signatures be respectful. FDA isn’t the enemy. They really would like nothing better than to approve a treatment for ALS but need the data to support it. I think we have the data because even though the population was small, the slope of decline as measured by the ALSFRS-R was reduced significantly during the short treatment window. Also, certain biomarker candidates were tracked and correlated with progression. Nevertheless, FDA has to be very careful with the precedent it sets so we as patients must be partners with them in these decisions.

My own experience with GM6 has been positive. The worst part of the entire project was getting the PICC line and the lumbar punctures for CSF samples to make biomarker measurements. I experienced absolutely no adverse events related to the drug. Insofar as benefits, I must admit that the small gains in function noted in the press release are most likely due to surviving neurons branching out new axon terminals to cover the neuromuscular junctions (NMJs) abandoned by the dying motor neurons affected by ALS. GM6 will NOT regrow dead motor neurons. However, it does induce healing in injured ones. In my case, I probably don’t have many injured motor neurons – most of mine are gone. But people who are more recently diagnosed have a higher chance of regaining some lost function in addition to stopping progression.

Based on the information I have seen and my own positive experience, along with the considerable (at best) delay in commencing a larger Phase 2 or 3 trial, I think GM6 deserves Accelerated Approval. I also think this could set a beneficial precedent for future drugs which show similar safety and efficacy signals in early trials. Hence my hope for GM6 getting into the larger population of PALS.

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IceBucket The Blue Sky

The #ALSIceBucketChallenge has been nothing short of a miracle for patients and researchers. Internet memes are rather capricious, having a nearly random hit/miss ratio. That this became so huge is a stroke of incredible luck. The awareness, and resulting increase in donations, has been a huge windfall. This surge couldn’t have come at a better time as researchers now have exquisite investigational tools not available even 5 years ago.

There is then the begged question, “Why did it take a patient and a tractor trailer full of luck to bring awareness to the public?” For decades there have been organizations claiming to represent ALS patients. Yet never has there been a sustained national awareness project executed. Patients were left largely on their own to create awareness. This is a question to which we as patients should demand an answer.

Nevertheless, the windfall is upon us. I believe that this boost in funding should be used to create a critical mass of awareness and outreach. As stated, Internet memes are capricious and subject to fading from the public memory with all the speed and ferocity with which it entered. This is the perfect time to keep the message sustained in the public view. Certainly the money to do so is now available.

Another question the ALS patient community should be asking is how much of the massively increased donations are going to be actually used for research, and in what programs. Some donations are going directly to research facilities but the bulk of them are not. Is that bulk to be hoarded and doled out in tiny slices and without focus to a wide variety of basic research projects, never giving any sufficient amounts to fully complete the work? Or will a significant effort be launched which will fund focused work on high-value pathways, including helping fund clinical trials in humans (there are a few promising treatments languishing for lack of funding to pay clinics to conduct Phase 2-3 trials).

This is the time for organizations representing the ALS patient community to step up. The shelf-life of popular public awareness is notoriously short. We need to take this opportunity to create a program of sustained awareness and lobbying for research funding, along with a focused research effort encompassing basic research through to human trials. It is also the time for all research and advocacy organizations to come together as a united front in order to make ALS nothing more than an unpleasant memory.

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Of Mice And Me

As many of my readers know, about two years ago I came across a study investigating a novel molecule for the treatment of Alzheimer’s. The molecule, J147, is a synthetic derivative of curcumin. Curcumin and other similar molecules have long been under study for neurodegenerative diseases. Unfortunately curcuminoids have rather poor bioavailability, meaning they are quickly excreted from the body and require high amounts to have a therapeutic value. Like curcumin, J147 is “orally available” (meaning it is introduced to the body by eating it) but is more than 100X as potent. This means a much smaller quantity is necessary for therapeutic effect. So far, we haven’t found a toxic dose of J147. Work on toxicity is ongoing.

In the Alzheimer’s study J147 had remarkable results in that model. The pathways acted upon were quite relevant to ALS. These include potent antioxidant effects, significant reduction of microglia activation and migration, and reduction of heat-shock protein expression which indicates a shift back toward cellular homeostasis. More recent data (unpublished) indicates an effect in reducing astrocyte activation, which is sufficient to rapidly kill even healthy motor neurons.

Unfortunately, because J147 is pleiotropic, pharmaceutical companies weren’t interested. The current research paradigm is to focus on single molecular targets. For diseases with a single mechanisms, that’s a fine method of attack. But ALS has quite a few things going on simultaneously. All prior single-target treatments have failed and the current growing opinion is that successful treatment would require a cocktail of drugs. Better to have a single pleiotropic substance than a mixture of chemicals with uncertain interactions.

In April, 2013, I created SciOpen Research Group in order to have an entity capable of negotiating research and licensing of novel molecules with the promise of treatment of ALS. J147 is our first project. In the early summer of 2013, SRG applied to Prize4Life for access to their colony of G93A transgenic research mice at Jackson Laboratories. Our research proposal for J147 was accepted and we were given granted sufficient animal numbers to properly conduct our study. We received the mice and started the experiment at the end of January.

We are very excited to have commenced our first research program and demonstrate that guerrilla biotechs can perform quality science. To that end, we created a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to obtain funding for the next step of the experiment – microscopic tissue examination. This will tell us exactly what J147 did to help the motor neurons in the mice.

Please donate if you can. All donations are tax-deductible. If you cannot donate please spread word about SRG and our need for funding this new and exciting research.