Proclara nabs Merck Alzheimer’s R&D executive

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David Michelson, M.D., leaves Merck after an 11-year stint, which recently saw the failure of its late-stage Alzheimer's drug.

Proclara Biosciences (once NeuroPhage Pharmaceuticals) has poached Merck Research Labs veteran David Michelson, M.D., as its new chief medical officer.

Michelson, who led the failed Alzheimer’s BACE inhibitor program for Merck, has been at the company since 2006, serving as its VP and therapeutic area head with responsibility for clinical research in neuroscience, pain, anesthesiology and ophthalmology. He has also served stints at Eli Lilly, as well as at the National Institute of Mental Health.

Now, following a long line of pharma R&D executives jumping ship to small biotechs, he will be responsible for clinical development of Proclara’s lead programs, including NPT088, which is in a phase 1b study for Alzheimer’s disease, and NPT189, which is in preclinical development for the treatment of orphan peripheral amyloidoses.

“I am delighted to welcome David to Proclara. He is a seasoned leader, with deep research, clinical and regulatory expertise, including significant experience in neurology,” says Suzanne Bruhn, Ph.D., president and CEO of Proclara.

“In particular, David’s extraordinary track record guiding innovative early-stage programs through clinical development will prove invaluable to Proclara, and we look forward to his contributions as we progress our pipeline of disease-modifying GAIM-based therapies for both neurodegenerative and orphan indications.”

He will hope to have more luck than the industry has had in battling this disease, which has seen a near complete failure rate for about 15 years now. Michelson experienced that disappointment first-hand when, just over a year ago, Merck pulled the plug on the study of verubecestat after an interim review by an external data group found it had “virtually no chance of finding a positive clinical effect.”

RELATED: Merck halts Alzheimer’s phase 3 after interim data analysis

That drug was focused on the amyloid thesis; Proclara, however, is pursuing a strategy with a pipeline of molecules aimed specifically at simultaneously correcting multiple misfolded proteins that are implicated in neurodegenerative diseases including amyloid beta, as well as tau and alpha-synuclein.

Proclara expects that its ability to address several forms of protein misfolding simultaneously will be a significant advantage over other neurodegenerative approaches that are in the clinic, like Biogen’s high-profile aducanumab, that target only a single type.

Unlike in most neurodegenerative diseases, Proclara targets multiple misfolded proteins via its general amyloid interaction motif (GAIM) approach. The idea is to target amyloid protein conformation, thereby preventing the misfolded protein assemblies associated with these disorders and the cell-to-cell transmission of toxic aggregates.

NPT088 is a GAIM-Ig fusion protein that’s being initially developed in Alzheimer’s disease and is expected to selectively bind to amyloid beta and tau aggregates. In preclinical testing in Alzheimer’s disease mouse models, NPT088 resulted in improvements in functional endpoints including cognition.

As Michelson added: “Proclara’s GAIM-based technology platform is unique in targeting multiple misfolded protein aggregates, and offers tremendous promise to transform the treatment paradigm for patients with age-related neurodegenerative diseases and orphan amyloidoses."

“I am very excited to join Proclara at this crucial time in the company’s growth, and look forward to guiding efforts to bring NPT088 and NPT189 through the next stages of development, with the ultimate goal of bringing this potentially transformative new class of medicines to patients in need.”

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