Is tobacco the unlikely Alzheimer's cure?

Star Scientific is developing CigRx, a nicotene-based compound that could help reduce brain inflamation and fight the disease

By InvestorPlace Mar 1, 2011 11:27AM

Image: Businesswoman (© Roy McMahon/Corbis)By Jeff Reeves, Editor, InvestorPlace.com


When you think about the tobacco industry, most folks probably don’t get a very good taste in their mouth. Investors think of massive lawsuits, steadily increasing taxes on cigarettes and dwindling smoker statistics choking off profits. And the general public thinks of lung cancer and that stale smell of Uncle Mickey’s jacket that infects the entire closet every time he visits for Thanksgiving.


But if tobacco stock Star Scientific (CIGX) has its way, the public could have a very different perception of tobacco in the future.


Namely, as the plant that cured Alzheimer’s.


So why haven’t you heard of this development? Well, because the results are preliminary and Star Scientific is burying its study on the potential cure in legalese and confusing press releases. As the pithy investor and journalist James Altucher wrote on Seeking Alpha, the latest press release from Star looked "looks like guys who got their law degree in some outpost of Antarctica wrote it."


Post continues after video:

But here are the details: Star  Scientific isolated a compound from nicotine, anatabine, that is a potential Alzheimer's treatment. After much hype, the  neurological research mecca Roskamp Institute will finally begin human trials with the antabine compound (cleverly named CigRx, patented by Star Scientific and distributed by Inventiv). It will complete the study after three months.


To temper expectations, this is just the first step in a long process for any approval of an Alzheimer’s treatment. The study at Roskamp will focus on “inflammation,” and the theory appears to be that if chronic inflammation can be controlled or prevented then there is potential to fight the ravages of Alzheimer’s. Many medical experts suspect chronic inflammation is behind not just Alzheimer's but also cancer, heart disease and other serious ailments. Then even if the study is conclusive, there is a long process of refinement and further studies before any FDA approval that brings a cure or treatment to the general public.


But this is not just a pipe dream. A Roskamp article indicates that CigRx and antabine have already been linked to lower inflammation on human brain tissue – more so than the much lauded cholesterol maintentance drug Lipitor from Pfizer (PFE). Granted, Lipitor is not formulated for neurological health but for cardiac health, but the comparison indicates Star Scientific is moving in the right direction. If inflammation of the brain is, in fact, a big cause of Alzheimer’s symptoms and progression of the illness, then this could prove a crucial first step.

Will the Alzheimer’s “cure” come to fruition? That’s still a big unknown. But in November the CEO of Star, Jonnie Williams, purchased a massive 717,220 shares of his own stock at a little under $2 a share. In the last six months, insiders have bought 4.13 million shares of Star Scientific.


That seems to indicate that the company has a lot of faith in its own leadership and product pipeline.


Jeff Reeves is editor of InvestorPlace.com. As of this writing, he did not own a position in any of the stocks named here. Follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP and become a fan of InvestorPlace on Facebook.


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