Ray Blanco makes (part of) his living looking for biotech moonshots, like most biotech-focused newsletter writers — and like his predecessor at Agora’s biotech and emerging tech-focused newsletter Breakthrough Technology Alert, he has often touted companies that are trying to end the scourge of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Why? Well, two main reasons: First, and by far most important, is that Alzheimer’s Disease is the Great White Whale of biotech investing, by far the largest “unmet need” and the hugest market that has not really been tapped by a blockbuster drug… existing treatments help some with symptoms, but no real preventive or curative drug has ever made a big impact, partly because there’s still a huge amount of debate over what causes Alzheimer’s.
That’s not for lack of trying, researchers have been banging their head against this wall for decades… and biotech and pharma companies the world over know that there are hundreds of billions of dollars potentially on offer for a real “cure,” and they keep pushing possibilities through clinical trials… and failing, usually very expensively. For most drugs, Phase III is when you really prove safety and efficacy and have a good chance of approval thanks to the many prior studies that set up expectations… for Alzheimer’s Drugs, Phase III is where you spend a few hundred million dollars but abandon your efforts at the finish line for lack of efficacy or some surprising new safety issue.
And Second, because the market for newsletter subscribers is also the population of people that is likely to be most worried about Alzheimer’s Disease… relatively affluent people in their 50s and 60s. They (maybe you, if you fit the “average” profile) have enough money to hope for a relatively secure retirement and potentially afford $2,000 a year for a niche sector investment newsletter, but also are at the age that they’re likely to have friends or family members (especially parents) whose lives have been ravaged by the disease, or fear for it in their own future. The “greed” impulse for finding a cure is boosted by the “maybe this will really help people, including me” feeling you get from reading about an Alzheimer’s breakthrough.
So we’ve seen Alzheimer’s Disease pitches many times from pretty much every biotech-focused newsletter, but things have been a little bleak in this area recently (as with much of biotech)… and, since none of the Alzheimer’s drugs pitched over the years have actually made it through to approval, or even in many cases to late-stage clinical trials, none of the Alzheimer’s pitches have made any money for investors if held through today (some of them would have provided opportunity for trading profits for those who are nimble and prescient, but any stock price spikes on good news or newsletter attention have always faded).
And this week, we’ve got another one to look at for you in an ad that started circulating recently. It looks very similar to Ray Blanco’s pitch from about a year ago, though it’s for a different company — back in January of 2018 he had a similar-looking and very similarly worded pitch for a teensy little microcap called ProMIS Neurosciences (PMN.TO, ARFXF), which was supposed to be about to blow the roof off Alzheimer’s and become a $40 billion behemoth thanks to his promise that their CEO would make a February 14 announcement to shock the world with the news that “Alzheimer’s Disease is Now Completely Treatable.”
And, of course, no such announcement was made last February… and that preclinical microcap did not cure Alzheimer’s Disease last year. The attention from Blanco was enough to help send the shares from 22 cents to 63 cents (Canadian), but the rest of the year saw the stock return to that 20 cent neighborhood, where it now sits once again.
That, in turn, was quite reminiscent of his similar promises about Anavex Life Sciences (AVXL) back in 2015, which was also supposed to “revolutionize modern medicine” thanks to its CEO’s anticipated November 7, 2015 announcement. Anavex is still an Alzheimer’s “story stock” to this day, marking now about the 10-year anniversary of its ANAVEX 2-73 drug being the “next great hope” for Alzheimer’s sufferers (and biotech investors), and it’s still trudging along, starting another Phase 2b/3 trial… who knows what will happen, the three-year results of its last trial looked at least mildly encouraging but the number of patients ever dosed with that drug is still extremely small, that phase 2 study started with only 32 patients and continued on with 21.
As many folks have noted, Alzheimer’s Disease treatments almost always fail in Phase III clinical trials… which, probably not coincidentally, is when the patient cohort typically becomes far larger and you get a real sense of the average response from at least hundreds, preferably thousands of patients. AVXL’s next study will be more than 10X larger, but will still treat only 450 patients, so the skeptic in me still says the sample size is too small to take very seriously. That’s a huge deal for Alzheimer’s Disease, since any drug will likely be extremely widely prescribed to people who are relatively healthy and don’t yet have symptoms of dementia — safety is going to be important, even as the FDA is trying to encourage more AD drugs with somewhat easier paths to approval and might allow through drugs whose efficacy is less than exciting, and you might not learn much that’s very definitive about safety from a few d