Alzheimer’s and Cassava: A Tale of Drugs, Money, and Short Sales

Introduction

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurological condition that has no cure and no definitive cause, however most people have heard of various risk factors and theories such as the plaque theory which says that amyloid proteins and tau proteins build up in the brain. Scientists and drug companies are in a race to find a cure and a treatment. Not only will the winner be a hero, they will become very rich, along with their investors. Others claim that a routine that includes exercise and a low carb, high fat diet can help prevent and treat Alzheimer’s symptoms. It was devastating to watch this terrible disease steal the life from my strong, smart father-in-law. He was not obese and he was very active, but he was elderly when the symptoms started. I sincerely hope that scientists can find a cure soon.

Why I wrote this article

Today I listened to (about half of) a Joe Rogan Podcast. I chose to listen because it was a topic that interests me, health. He was interviewing a guy about Alzheimer’s disease.

I won’t give all the specifics, you can listen to it yourself, but his guest Max Lugavere mentioned that a long term theory about plaques in the brain causing Alzheimer’s had been debunked, which was news to me. I found that scientists have been arguing about it for years.

Who is Max Lugavere?

His website says he is a “is a top health podcaster, wellness journalist, filmmaker, and author. He wrote The New York Times bestseller Genius Foods and The Wall Street Journal bestseller Genius Kitchen. From 2005-2011, Lugavere was a journalist for Al Gore’s Current TV.” I don’t see any scientific credentials, and he worked for Al Gore? Well, I agreed with what he said about eating healthy and the importance of blood glucose control for everyone in relation to brain health.

Lugavere discussed how some important research that supposedly validated the plaque theory had possibly been falsified. He also mentioned a separate drug that doesn’t work and has bad side effects called aducanumab which is a monoclonal antibody. As we know, drugs ending in -mab are the hot thing nowadays.

Lugavere stated that none of the current drugs are actually helping and that plaques aren’t the cause of Alzheimer’s. The mayo clinic seems to agree .

What I learned was very eye-opening

Tonight I did a little of my own research to see what happened about the falsified research. In a nutshell, I learned that the race to a cure includes a lot of people hoping to get rich and a lot of grant money and possibly stock market manipulation.

My first steps down the rabbit hole led me to a video on YouTube. Then I looked for those people’s names on Twitter. I found threads on Twitter of stock traders discussing the stock of the pharmaceutical company Cassava (SAVA) that was going to make an Alzheimer’s drug called Simufilam.

Cassava has received over a billion dollars in grants from the NIH. You can see the detailed list here. They have yet to put a single drug on the market.

I summarized the events in a timeline. You can click on the link to see a pdf.

My research into the falsified research led me to an article by Science.

Science magazine had published an article which provided scientific evidence that sounded reasonable to someone like me who is not an neuroscientist, stating that the research was probably falsified. The proof of fraud was based on some images that Matthew Schrag, a neuroscientist hired by the lawyer Jordan Thomas, claims were altered. As expected, this article created shockwaves and more articles flooded the internet such as the following. https://katiecouric.com/health/alzheimers-research-fraud-matthew-schrag-sylvain-lesne/

Schrag received $18,000 from an attorney for short sellers behind the FDA petition, who profit if Cassava’s value falls. Schrag, whose efforts were independent of Vanderbilt, says he worked hundreds of hours on the petition and independent research and he has never shorted Cassava stock or earned other money for efforts on that issue, or for similar work involving University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, neuroscientist Sylvain Lesné. (In either case, if federal authorities determine fraud occurred and demand a return of grant money, Schrag might be eligible to receive a portion of the funds.)

https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.ade0181

Who is Jordan Thomas?

Jordan Thomas, a lawyer who helped develop the SEC whistleblower program, filed a citizen petition to the FDA to halt the trials of Simufilam. The petition was based on the supposed false research. “The petition claimed that no lab has confirmed a link between filamin A and Alzheimer’s disease or its effect on models for the disease.”1 The FDA declined to investigate saying that a citizen’s petition was not the appropriate method, but that they still take the accusations seriously.

I don’t know much about the stock market so forgive me if I word things a little incorrectly. But the way I am understanding this is that short sellers do their research on a company to see if the price is overstated, then call out fraud in companies with the goal of making money off their falling stock prices. This is called short selling and it’s legal. But making false claims in order to crash the price is NOT legal.

Simufilam is in phase 3 trials

But not everyone agreed that the research was falsified, or if it was that there was enough reason to stop the trials of Simufilam. The trials were not halted and the petition was denied by the FDA. Some families of people in the trial have stated that their loved ones are doing better on the drug. People are still buying stock in this company.

Stock facts: SAVA has a market cap or net worth of $1.55 billion. The enterprise value is $1.35 billion. SAVA has 40.10 million shares outstanding. The number of shares has increased by 0.16% in one year. It has no income. https://stockanalysis.com/stocks/sava/statistics/

As you can see people who bought the stock when it was very high stand to lose money unless it goes back up.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is always the bottom line and many people stand to gain or lose money in this whistleblower case. Many people hold stock in Cassava, the company doing the trials, and they have a vested interest in seeing it succeed. Here is one example. And then there are the people who have loved ones with Alzheimers who will be hurt if an effective drug gets cancelled. However, some claim that other companies are ready to pounce and sell the drug themselves which adds to the intrigue of this story. Whether the SEC or DOJ actually prosecute anyone, the citizen’s petition had a big effect on this company. If the are lying about their drug, we need to know. If the short sellers are lying, they should be held responsible.

FUDsters?

I learned a new word! FUD stands for Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt and people who spread it to influence the market are called FUDsters. Commonly used by those in the cryptocurrency market. Using media to create doubt is such a common thing that it has a name.

Why should you care?

The reason that this story matters is that

  • 1)If Simufilam actually works, it should be made available.
  • 2)Attacking companies through elaborate schemes to make their stock crash is illegal.
  • 3)Many people invest money directly or indirectly through their 401K in healthcare stocks that could be affected by ‘short and distort’ schemes.
  • 4)The public needs to be able to trust what we read and listen to online.
  • 5)This is an example of how manipulating the public with questionable information can have widespread, real-life consequences for many people.

*By the way Joe says some good stuff in this episode about the benefits of raising chickens and eating healthy eggs.

References

  1. https://www.fiercebiotech.com/biotech/cassava-scores-a-win-as-fda-denies-citizen-petition-over-data-manipulation-allegations-for

5 comments

  1. It has been many years since I worked in Dr. Boyd Haley’s biochem lab at UK, but the good doctor was convinced back in the 1980s that beta-amyloid proteins were an effect of Alzheimer’s, NOT the cause. His research into G-proteins was state of the art at the time, but he could not get a hearing from the main biochem and scientific journals because was not “selling” the beta-amyloid mantras.
    My limited understanding, after being out of the lab so long, is that the jury is still out; the brain remains a mystery; and scientists are no closer to understanding central problems to its workings than they were in 1990, the first year of The Decade of the Brain.
    ❤️& 🙏, c.a.

  2. You have led an interesting life, C.A. ! What did you do in the lab? Thanks for sharing that story. As you might remember I studied psychology in college. I remember how little they really knew about the brain back then and I agree that it doesn’t seem like much progress has been made, at least as far as treating mental illness. Right now most research seems to be on genetic modification.

  3. People are desperate for answers, hope of any kind.
    The FDA, NIH etc are the only source of funding for these basic research projects.
    Most research ends up as a “failure” with no cure or definitive answer. But even failures answer some questions.
    If investors want to risk their money in hopes of getting richer and helping people as a bi-product, that’s okay. It’s capitalism and we need someone to move these drugs from the lab to clinical trials.
    The FDA provides the seed money and investors often put in much more.
    It is unfortunate when people manipulate “the system” to get rich on stock and not a solution. I do believe that such manipulation is illegal.

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