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SLU research may lead to new drug for neuro diseases

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CANTON — A casual conversation in a hockey locker room prompted a business partnership that may eventually help people suffering from multiple sclerosis and other neuro-degenerative diseases.

Joseph S. Erlichman, a biology professor at St. Lawrence University, and Mark L. Brackett, president of the Kinney Drug Inc. Foundation, are working with others to develop a drug to treat diseases such as MS and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

After playing hockey one evening, the two men discussed research that Mr. Erlichman and a few of his colleagues were conducting on live brain slices from mice.

The study focuses on observing how the compound cerium oxide affects neuro-damage that’s taken place in the mice. The rodents are observed after they’re placed on a motor-skill apparatus like a treadmill or balance beam to see if they show improvement after taking the cerium oxide.

For the past several years, students from SLU have been involved in that part of the research.

Mr. Erlichman said the results have been promising so far.

“We’ve been accruing an enormous amount of data,” he said. “We’ve found this has the potential to mitigate or decrease tissue damage or disease progression in a wide variety of pathologies.”

Essentially, the compound is effective at neutralizing free radicals that are associated with many pathological diseases, Mr. Erlichman said.

For multiple sclerosis, the compound appears to be as effective as Gilenya, a drug now used to treat the disease in humans, he said.

“We have also used the nanoparticles in the treatment of a mouse model of ALS with promising results,” he said.

In 2009 Mr. Brackett and Mr. Erlichman created the company Neuroredox, with Mr. Brackett serving as its chief executive officer.

Later they teamed up with Cerion Enterprises, a Rochester-based company, to create a new joint venture company, Cerion NRx, which will continue the necessary steps involved with developing the drug.

Other SLU professors have also been involved in the research, including William DeCouteau, Ana Y. Estevez, Karin Heckman and Matthew C. Skeels.

Upcoming steps include receiving approval from the Food and Drug Administration to test the drug’s effectiveness on humans. Determining whether the drug is toxic to humans will be a main factor in determining if it can be marketed to a pharmaceutical company and then sold to the public, Mr. Brackett said.

Finding a pharmaceutical company to invest in the product and applying for federal funding are other hurdles.

“You have to get all the ducks in a row,” Mr. Brackett said. “We have hired a consultant who has taken other drugs to market.”

Mr. Brackett, a former pharmacist, said he has been interested in neurological diseases for many years.

“These diseases cause a great deal of devastation and pain to families. We think we can help that,” he said.

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