Meet Amprion’s Scientists/CoFounders, CEO Russ Lebovitz and CSO Claudio Soto, as they reminisce about Amprion’s scientific origin and the path they took the company to what it is today. Discover the link between Mad Cow disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and as well as other neurodegenerative disorders. Early detection is the keystone in finding the cure. Amprion is revolutionizing EARLY DETECTION for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s by tracking the biomarkers or prions (aka misfolded proteins) in the brain prior to the start of any clinical symptoms, accelerating drug development along the process. Amprion’s mission is to empower people to navigate their brain health.
Discovery of Amprion: Early Detection for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
I’ve been working for many years on these diseases. We invented this technology that can detect misfolded proteins. It has a potentially very large application, and that can help society, can help people, can help physicians, can help drug companies. So I was looking for a business partner that can help me to grow this and this is how I found Russ. We started many, many years ago, studying this rare diseases, like Mad Cow disease, that are very infectious diseases that can transmit animals to humans, etc. And we developed this technology that has the big potential to detect very small amount of prions in biological fluids. But not only that, scientifically this is also very important. Our technology will use it to demonstrate, finally, that the infectious agent in these diseases was really the protein. And for the first time using our PMCA technology we were able to generate infectious material in the laboratory.
When I first met Claudio he had developed technology that let you see these prion particles. You could, by amplifying them, it was, it’s very hard to be able to look at them biochemically. They are rare at early stages. Claudio was able to develop technology to where you could see these long before animals developed the symptoms. We really believed that the world was going to be in desperate straits, that this was something that would be going from cows to people, from people to people, and both our food supply and our… It had some probability that this was going to be a giant epidemic and we were on the forefront. It didn’t turn out to be the giant epidemic, it turns out to be an important problem, and the importance is largely the analogy to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Everything started with the prions. In Mad Cow disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, so these are diseases of the brain also. Similar to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson but a different disease and much more rare disease, but very devastating. We started the technology with that protein and when other proteins was shown the science was shown that they also work like prions then we thought, wow this is our opportunity to move it into this much more common diseases where there is so much need. Yeah, from my perspective, we started this at the time Mad Cow disease was now a recognized epidemic, and Claudio had invented a tool for looking at it early and looking at it pre-symptomatically. And the question he posed is, since this is hidden, and it takes a long time to come through, it is possible that there are a hundred times as many people and animals infected with this we just don’t know so that we would use this tool to figure out whether we were looking at this epidemic at the beginning or the end. It turned out we were looking at the end.
But, the technology was so interesting and so unique that Claudio said no problem that Mad Cow isn’t turning out to be a major disease epidemiologically. I believe that this is just the prototype for things happening in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, other neurodegenerative disease. So let’s just keep going with this and I said, “Hey, I’m with you.” Meanwhile, Claudio and his colleagues in the lab develop better and better technology and you know, we ended up, several years later having technology that did what his vision was. So that really launched Amprion from a prion company, Amprion, we amplified prions, to something much more broad, for neurodegenerative disease and we just, together, you know, agreed, that we would, bet the farm of the company, that this would turn out to be true. And it has.
Claudio is the discovery side of the Amprion brain trust, which is much more now than just the two of us. But, here’s discovery, but there’s commercialization. Sometimes it’s regulatory and it can be plotting but it’s very important, many great ideas get discovered, very few of them make it to the point where they can change people’s lives. So I think that’s the marriage here of great ideas and discovery, with, my ability to take these great ideas and figure out how step by step you actually build something. Now, the technology is being used in the clinic, both in the US and Europe for diagnosing prion diseases such as Mad Cow disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Now, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, they’re also diseases that follow the same principle so, this is where the big need is, and this is where Amprion is focusing on now. We have licensed that technology, as Amprion, to centers for studying prions clinically in the United States, in Europe, other parts of the world. It is the dominant technology and the most sensitive technology for studying these diseases. Today, scientists agree that there are more than 30 different diseases that involve the formation of this protein aggregate. Most of them are rare diseases, but some of them, like Type 2 diabetes, are very frequent, very prevalent diseases. We think cancer is also there. We believe that Amprion’s technology, in the future, may actually be applicable to many, many of the most common diseases today.
We believe that misfolding of proteins, and the link between that misfolding of proteins, and disease is, will be every bit as important in the future as somatic genetic changes, genetic mutations that occur, that lead to cancer and other diseases. Right now, the tools are very advanced for analyzing genetic changes, somatic genetic changes, but at Amprion we’re developing parallel tools for looking at all manner of misfolded proteins, individual proteins, different structures of those proteins and we think there’s a personalized medicine approach to these diseases using different structures of misfolded proteins, different combinations of misfolded proteins.
We have the real possibility to impact the lives of millions and millions of people. If we can detect Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease before it damages the brain and then we can give the pharmaceutical companies opportunity to develop better drugs we can have a real impact on the life of many people and eliminate some of these diseases. So, my dream, actually, is that like, you say today, about tuberculosis, or some malaria or some rare diseases, that one day, people will say, there was a time in which a lot of people develop Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, now these diseases don’t exist anymore.
For me, it’s the same vision I would look at it, that, we have no drugs for Alzheimer’s, Parkinsons, or other neurodegenerative diseases, despite tremendous efforts and expenditures. I believe in the next 10 years there will be more than one drug that work in these contexts and that at least one, in probably the majority of them will be successful through the efforts that, of our, joint venture here. To me, to have a drug on the market that we helped shepherd through, whether we invent it or we just enable it, that is what would make me very excited.
What drive me as a scientist is, what looks impossible. If you ever tell me that something is impossible, I want to resolve it. Let’s think about the most difficult thing that you can think, and let’s work on those. Change the world, change society. Improve life for people. Science has a lot of powers. For me, the exciting part of Amprion, and where we are together, is that we are the next step in a technological breakthrough that allows us to see a whole family of diseases that couldn’t be approached before and that approach will allow us to have significant impact and to develop tools, drugs, other diagnostics, to change these diseases, and improve the lives of many, many people, including ourselves.