A treatment that could spare millions of families the pain and heartbreak of watching someone they love slip away is now in clinical trials in Boston.
Weiner has been working on the nasal spray vaccine for almost two decades. The treatment relies on an immune modulator called Protollin, a drug made up of proteins derived from bacterial. It is designed to activate white blood cells to start clearing the plaque build-up on the brain, a hallmark of the disease.
“What we’re doing is triggering the body’s own immune system, the body’s own defenses, to kind of cure itself,” explained Weiner.
The vaccine is currently in phase one trials – an early stage with just 16 participants who are already showing symptoms of the disease.
That group includes Jeff Goldberg of Easton. He and his family first noticed some changes five years ago.
“He wasn’t able to do the checkbook anymore. He was getting confused about things,” said Goldberg's wife, Cindy.
After Goldberg’s diagnosis, the family learned about the early-stage trial for the vaccine getting underway this past December. Goldberg was on board.
“I just said, yeah, I’ll do it. I have nothing to lose except everything to gain,” he said.
Patients in the current trial are being monitored for six months as researchers evaluate dosage and safety. Then, hopefully, launch a larger trial for the vaccine.
“We’re making good progress so far,” said Dr. Tanuja Chitnis, the principal investigator for the trial. “It seems to be going very well and we’re not seeing any major issues.”
For Weiner, this mission is personal.
“I lost my mother to Alzheimer’s disease,” he explained. “Hearing what all the people have gone through and, you know, going through it myself with my mother. So, I mean, you’re not going to quit.”
That fighting spirit is strong in the Goldbergs, too. Even down to the youngest members of the family.
“One of my grandsons, he’s 8,” said Cindy Goldberg. “He goes, 'Gram, I want to be a doctor when I grow up. You know why? Because I want to find a cure for Alzheimer’s so my Grampy won’t forget who I am.' Yeah. How about that one?”
Right now, the trial only involves patients already showing symptoms of the disease. But, Weiner hopes in the future the vaccine could be available to people who are merely at risk of developing the illness.
He hopes to be seeking FDA approval for the vaccine in about five years.