- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2000

The Dulles high-tech corridor has investors in a craze to the point where no other industries seem to get attention. Yet in its shadow, the Rockville biotechnology sector has flourished.

Michael Floyd, for example, has founded NeuroLogic Inc., a biotech company that is developing a diagnostic test to detect Alzheimer's disease.

"I saw my grandmother go through it, and it's just terrible," said Mr. Floyd of Alzheimer's, which causes loss of memory. "To me the most frightening thing is not to be able to recognize my children. I can't imagine a more horrifying way to die."

NeuroLogic has an exclusive licensing arrangement with the National Institutes of Health to develop and market a test to determine if someone is suffering from the disease.

NIH estimates that Alzheimer's accounts for about $100 billion in U.S. health care costs per year in medical treatment and long-term care. Early detection could lead to better treatment and save health care providers enormous amounts of money.

The test was developed and patented by researchers at NIH, and the company acquired it in 1997, along with one of the test's researchers, Dr. Rene Etcheberrigaray. Dr. Etcheberrigaray now heads test development for NeuroLogic's three laboratories in Rockville.

The Food and Drug Administration recently gave NeuroLogic approval for clinical trials. If the trials prove successful, the company will apply for permission to put the test on the market, and in turn will pay royalties to NIH.

"Why develop a diagnostic if there is no treatment?" said Mr. Floyd, 44. "In order to treat it, you have to understand who has it and how severe it is. I think the test will have a significant role."

He added: "We are closer to answers by developing technology."

Although Alzheimer's has been the subject of much research in recent years, there is still no way to diagnose Alzheimer's with certainty in a living person. With a patient showing signs of dementia, a doctor can only rule out other possible causes, such as strokes, tumors or vitamin deficiencies. Only through an autopsy can the disease be identified.

The disease is the most common cause of dementia; it is progressive and degenerative, attacking nerve cells, especially those involved in processing memory. It is most common in men and women over age 65, though it occasionally affects people in their 40s.

The disease usually begins with lapses of memory, mood swings and difficulty finding the right words. Sufferers become confused and find it difficult to understand what is happening around them.

"It's a degenerative disease that over time gets worse, so the earlier you detect it, the better," said Sushant Kumar, a biotech analyst with Mehta Partners in New York. "There isn't any therapy, but there is a lot of research going on.

"So a test would be very, very positive from both the point of view to diagnose the illness as well as the potential that if diagnosed early, perhaps there is a chance for therapeutic intervention," Mr. Kumar said.

The market for a diagnostic test for Alzheimer's depends on how predictive it is, whether or not it detects the disease in its early stages, and if intervention can be made, said Laura Kragie, president and chief scientific officer of BioMedWorks Inc., a Silver Spring consulting firm for the biotech and health care industries.

"If it really alters the course of the disease, then that will save a lot of money [to the health care field], and then managed care will pay for it," she said.

"But it's a gamble," she said, because there is no certainty that an effective test will lead to therapy.

Mr. Floyd wasn't always involved in biotech. A certified public accountant, he has worked in the hospitality field, owned a hotel and founded the Complete Wellness Centers Inc., a health care company that integrates alternative health care providers with practicing doctors.

He left that company in 1996 to begin researching the market for a biotech company, networking with financiers and talking to doctors. That's how he met Barry Bank, chief executive officer and co-founder of NeuroLogic.

Mr. Bank lives in Toronto where he helps run his family business, Bank Bros. & Son Ltd., a processor, trader and exporter of cattle hides. He has a medical background and was a research fellow at NIH specializing in neurological and cognitive disorders and diseases.

While Mr. Bank works for NeuroLogic out of his home, Mr. Floyd operates out of an office in Chevy Chase. He also spends a lot of time in the company's three labs off the I-270 corridor.

"This is a unique place," Mr. Floyd said, adding that NeuroLogic is perfectly situated a few miles from both NIH and Johns Hopkins University.

The company does not expect to see profits until the FDA approves the test for commercial use, which Mr. Floyd believes will happen next year. Once approved, he projects revenues of more than $10 million in the first year.

"Most successful companies in this corridor have invested in great sciences, and I think that's the measure," Mr. Floyd said of neighbors such as Human Genome Sciences, Gene Logic and Antex Biologics.

Alzheimer's was named after the man who discovered it, German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer, in 1906. Back then, the disease was not often seen. But Alzheimer's has become more prevalent as life expectancy has risen from 47 at the turn of the century to 77 today.

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