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Ask doctor about all-but-forgotten memory drug


Dear Mr. Berko:

My 74-year-old father’s memory has markedly declined in the past year, and it is becoming very embarrassing and unsettling for him.

Several months ago, my father seemed to recall a new drug called (he thinks) “Alphaplex.” I asked our family physician about this drug and several others, but he drew blanks. My father insists I write you because he believes you may know the drug and the company that makes it because your physician son has helped you write columns on this in the past.

Do you know if this is a drug and, if so, does it work? Can you tell me who makes it and how I can get it? Would the company be a good investment?

R.R., Destin, Fla.

Dear RR:

Novartis AG has a drug called Exelon, Pfizer Inc. has a drug it named Aricept and Johnson & Johnson Inc.’s drug uses the name Reminyl.

If you surf the television, you might recall that Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Novartis are spending millions encouraging you to waste your insurer’s money on these prescriptives.

Each boosts the level of acetylcholine, a brain chemical, but it only delays the progression of early-stage Alzheimer’s disease for a few months. They do not improve memory or cognitive ability, and the associated nausea side effects make you want to forget. I don’t think these are the drugs to which you refer.

Perhaps the potion your father may have heard about is called Ampalex, which, according to my son the doctor, belongs to a new class of drugs called ampakines. The leader in this field is a small pharmaceutical company called Cortex Pharmaceuticals Inc. (COR-$3.66).

According to my son, Ampalex seems to work by increasing the focal activity of AMPA receptors, which assist the brain in maintaining normal concentrations of a messenger chemical called glutamate. Apparently, low levels of glutamate inhibit the brain’s memory and cognitive functions and high levels of glutamate “overstimulate” brain cells causing them to die.

Alzheimer’s involves both excesses and deficiencies of glutamate at different times and under different circumstances. Supposedly, Ampalex allows the brain to compensate for various patterns of glutamate by enhancing the ability of AMPA receptors to respond to changing levels. That’s as technical as I’m going to get.

Ampalex is in Phase II trials. I was told about a 75-year-old participant whose memory problems had become terrible, and had led to social and familial embarrassment. This person was healthy as an ox, physically strong and continued to work a full week.

The effect of Ampalex was immediate and profoundly appreciable. Within two weeks, this person experienced a near-perfect recovery that was excitedly noticed by business associates, friends and family members.  At the completion of the trial study period, Ampalex became legally unavailable to him, and within a month his faculties heartbreakingly reverted to pretrial levels.

COR has that drug, and has the supporting research. Ampalex is one drug that may be effective. COR recently completed a $5 million private placement with the brokerage firm of Rodman & Renshaw. The company also has filed applications for European and U.S. patent protection on the use of any drugs that focus on AMPA receptor activity.

Cortex has 17 million shares outstanding, of which fewer than 2 percent are owned by institutions or mutual funds. Unlike Abgenix, Protein Design, QLT, Noven, Amylin, Cytogen, Forest Labs, Galen Holdings, etc., which have huge support from the major drug companies, COR has to go begging for funds.

Though Cortex has no debt, it badly needs cash. It doesn’t have a following on Wall Street and I don’t know of any brokerage firm that has assigned an analyst to the stock, which, one might argue, is an excellent reason to own it.   However, there are more than 60 companies looking for the Holy Grail to memory and cognitive recovery, and some 40 of them are currently conducting human trials. COR’s Ampalex is the only drug I know (remember there are 60 plus companies diligently searching) that appears to work.

I think the stock is a rank speculation, but a reasonable rank speculation. The share price in the past five years has ranged between 25 cents and $8, and if you can afford to risk $3,000, I don’t have a single good reason to tell you not to.

Regarding your other question, I can’t tell you how to get Ampalex for your father. You might discuss this with your father’s physician, who may have some influence with Cortex.

Please address your financial questions to Malcolm Berko, P.O. Box 1416, Boca Raton, Fla. 33429 or e-mail him at malber@adelphia.net.

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