Dementia – Will It Be a Curable Disease?
SEOUL, KOREA – As the number of elderly people grows worldwide as the result of higher average life expectancy, the number of people living with dementia is also rapidly on the rise. According to the WHO, nearly 35.6 million people live with dementia worldwide. The number is expected to double by 2030 (65.7 million) and more than triple by 2050 (115.4 million). Unlike other diseases, dementia can have a significant social cost as families or relatives are required to take care of the patients, sacrificing time at work. In addition, most diseases that cause dementia are progressive, making patients regress over time. Unfortunately, no curative treatment for dementia is currently available in the market. Many drugs used for dementia are either minimally effective or limited by side effects such as dizziness and vomiting.
The dramatic efficacy of a new botanical drug: BL-153
“BL-153 is a natural substance drug which completed non-clinical trials by Korean Food and Drugs Administration(KFDA) and received IND (Investigational New Drug) approval to continue on to the next two phase (II) of clinical trials, which will be conducted on humans,” said Young Heui Kim, deputy director of Bioland, a company which has a reputation for developing natural substances. BL-153 is a code name of dementia treatment being developed jointly by Bioland and Chungbuk National University as a form of industrial-academic collaboration. Through animal testing, they proved that the drug had no side effects even with long-term use, and demonstrated fundamental treatment effects to prevent the buildup of amyloid beta protein, a cause of dementia, and to repair memory damage.
“We conducted diverse experiment on mice causing dementia by administering a range of components such as scopolamine or beta amyloid, or by manipulating genes. They caused the experimental mice to exhibit symptoms of dementia such as loss of the sense of direction and slowdown in movements. When the medicine made of natural substances was administered into the mice, their behavior returned to normal without any side effects,” Kim said.
The initial idea of the dementia treatment, however, came from Mr. Jin Tae Hong, a professor of College of Pharmacy at Chungbuk National University, who proposed a joint research to Bioland. “Prior to this joint project, we were developing antidepressant with obovatol, a component of Magnolia Obovata leaves. In the process, we discovered a new component of the leaves, methyl honokiol. It seemed different from the existing ones from Magnolia Obovata leaves such as obovatol, magnolol, and honokiol so we turned to Bioland for validation and found out that was in fact a novel component,” said the professor.
Since then, the two organizations have undergone a joint research project. Professor Hong investigates the effects of drugs and the pharmacological mechanisms, and conducts safety evaluation through cell and animal experiment. Bioland sets standards of crude drugs, conducts non-clinical trials and takes charge of mass production.
Their projects were immensely successful. They have already obtained five patents for the technologies in Korea and have applied for around 20 patents in the US, Japan, and China. “Economic value at current levels with the successful completion of non-clinical trials is around 10 million dollars, and this will grow exponentially once the clinical test is completed. Afterwards the new drug will be supplied to global pharmaceutical companies or the patents will be licensed out. The remaining clinical tests are expected to be completed within 2 years,” he continued.
Upon passing all of the clinical trials, BL-153 will not only be used for new botanical drug, but also for complete new chemical drug. Furthermore, similar Magnolia extract is already used for tranquilizers in the U.S market as it possesses sedative effects. “The fact that it is currently commercially available proves that the component has no harmful effects on human,” Kim said.
Bioland, a pioneer in localizing cosmetic ingredients
Bioland is regarded as a pioneer in producing natural cosmetic ingredients in Korea. Before the company developed cosmetic ingredients, all the Korean companies had completely relied on importing components to produce cosmetics. Providing the leading role in the localization of cosmetics, Bioland has grown into a company supplying key ingredients to top international cosmetic brands. One of representing ingredients, hyaluronic acid - a humectants skincare ingredient, was developed and has been exported to diverse global companies such as L’Oreal, P&G, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, and LVMH.
Another main cosmetic ingredient is Portulaca Extract, derived from Portulaca Oleracea, a native Korean plant. This extract has been shown to possess good anti-inflammatory and antiallergic effects through the utilization of isolation and purification technologies as well as detection technologies. This was adopted by Johnson & Johnson as ingredients for acne and skin care products, and were applied to nine products of the Clean & Clear Advantage line, and also supplied to global cosmetic companies such as Unilever and Clarins.
After gaining immense success within the cosmetic business, they gradually expanded into food ingredients and natural substance areas. In regards to ingredients for natural substances in medicine, Bioland is best known for maintaining consistent quality to mass produce with standardization. For instance, when extracting from ginseng, the active ingredients remain consistent, unlike other oriental medicine whose effects often lack stability.
Professor Jin Tae Hong of Chungbuk National University
Professor Hong is a well-known expert in dementia treatment studies, having worked in the area for more than 20 years. He started his career at KFDA from 1990 and moved to the university to continue research on the disease in 2001. He is a head of the Medical Research Center(MRC) designated by the Korean Ministry of Education, Science and Technology to promote medical science and engineering research. The center recently received awards at the 10th International Conference of the Asian Clinical Oncology Society hosted by Korean Cancer Association for their ongoing studies on preventing cancer by the manipulation of Alzheimer’s genes. This studies have been ongoing for more than eight years, and no other country has let to validate this link.
He is also globally known in studying on Alzheiner’s disease treatment. Recently, as a result of three of his papers on Alzheiner’s disease attaining publication in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, an international multidisciplinary journal, his work has became recognized worldwide. Since then, he has served as a member of the editorial board of the journal.
“This joint research between Chungbuk National University and Bioland is an ideal model for academic and industrial collaboration as they provide good opportunites of practical science and potential careers for students and also contribute to developing the pharmaceutical industry, as well as boosting the national economy. As the animal testing proved its safety, we are very confident that this experiment will pass the two other phases of clinical tests. With consistent development, we will strengthen technical capabilities to make dementia a curabla disease in the near future,” the professor said.