The Week That Wasn't: Pizza Hut Founder's Dementia, Kidney Stone Drug, Andrew Yang

Ellie Kincaid


December 20, 2019

You may have recently seen articles about a Pizza Hut cofounder's improvement on a clinical trial for his Alzheimer's disease, a new drug that could help people pass kidney stones less painfully, and Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s healthcare plan. Here's why you didn't see them on Medscape.

Pizza Hut Cofounder on Alzheimer's Clinical Trial

Frank Carney, one of the founders of Pizza Hut, received a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease about a decade ago. His wife Janie got him into a clinical trial testing a drug called bryostatin-1, which the New York-based biotech company Neurotrope has been testing as a potential treatment for neurological conditions including Alzheimer's and fragile X syndrome. While enrolled in the trial, Carney's symptoms and his scores on a cognitive test improved, according to local news reports, though his condition later deteriorated again.

It's an appealing, feel-good story if you focus on the part in which Carney got better and not when his symptoms reverted. But 3 months before Carney's condition was reported, Neurotrope announced that the drug failed to show a benefit for patients with moderate-to-severe Alzheimer's compared with placebo in a phase 2 trial. The company's stock price dropped nearly 80% at that news and has since been trading at prices near $1 per share.

Neurotrope later announced that it would "explore strategic alternatives to maximize shareholder value," which may or may not end in a sale. The company disclosed it had approximately $20.8 million in cash and cash equivalents remaining at the beginning of August.

All of this makes it seem unlikely that bryostatin-1 will come to market as an effective Alzheimer's therapy. Carney's case as described in the media reports is not evidence that the drug works, especially considering it's not clear he received the drug rather than the placebo, and the overall clinical trial results were negative. There's nothing in this story that would provide busy clinicians with information that could help them care for someone with Alzheimer's, so we didn't want to give it more exposure.

Kidney Stone Drug

Two small molecule drugs that reduce muscle contractions in the ureter could make the process of passing kidney stones easier, researchers at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital reported in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering . They tested 18 total compounds and found that the calcium channel blocker nifedipine and the Rho-kinase inhibitor ROCKi decreased ureteral contraction amplitude and frequency in sedated pigs.

A new drug combination that could make passing kidney stones less painful would be novel and useful. The experiments the researchers describe in their paper are only the beginning of a long drug development process, however, and many compounds that seem promising in the preclinical stages of research do not make it to market. We typically don't report on drug candidates until researchers have tested them in the clinic and we start to have a better idea of how they may perform for patients. This particular drug combination for kidney stones doesn't need to be on any clinician's radar yet.

Andrew Yang's Healthcare Plan

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang's campaign released his healthcare plan on Monday, which calls for a six-pronged approach to "fix our broken healthcare system by tackling the root problems." His six prongs: control prescription drug costs, invest in innovative technology to improve telehealth coverage, improve the economic incentive structure, focus on preventative care, ensure comprehensive care including mental health needs, and minimize the influence of lobbyists.

Yang's plan is sweeping, but it doesn't give many details on specific actions he would take to address the healthcare system's problems in the unlikely event he is elected president (his poll numbers are in the low single digits). As the plan doesn't say much that would be surprising to clinicians working in the field and is not likely to affect national policy, we didn't think it needed our readers' attention. 

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