Detective work against dementia: Adlershof Start-up Predemtec is working on a procedure for early detection of Alzheimer’s

26. June 2020

Detective work against dementia

Adlershof Start-up Predemtec is working on a procedure for early detection of Alzheimer’s

Carola Schipke und Team © WISTA Management GmbH

Carola Schipke and her team at Predemtec AG are researching the early detection of Alzheimer's disease. © WISTA Management GmbH

Based on blood analysis and its own algorithms, Predemtec AG has been working on a procedure for early detection of Alzheimer’s Disease since 2011. Their team has identified six biomarkers that, in their concentration and the way they relate to each other, strongly suggest a risk of Alzheimer’s.

The loss of memory is creeping. Those affected and their peers often have no way of noticing the accelerating cell death in the frontal lobe and the cerebral cortex because the brain is able to compensate for those losses for up to ten years. Once Alzheimer’s is detected, it is often too late. More and more ageing cells lose their resilience and experience irreparable damage through metabolic processes. Then, the disease strikes mercilessly. It robs patients of everything that makes them who they are: their memories, their orientation, and, in severe cases, their speech.

In mid-2018, Carola Schipke made the fight against Alzheimer’s her main occupation. Until then, the biochemist worked in neuroscience at Berlin’s Charité and researched signals transmission in brain cells and the molecular processes of diseases like depression and dementia. She recently made the move to Predemtec AG and became the company’s chief scientist. ‘I knew the team and their work from joint research projects with Charité’, she says. What she saw there convinced her. The start-up has been pushing for an IT-driven process for early detection of Alzheimer’s since 2011. In place of the former gold standard, which was based on extracting and analysing spinal fluid, the start-up is working on Alzheimer’s detection based on blood serum, enabling GPs to cover early detection in routine blood tests.

To do so, the team has identified six biomarkers that can be traced in the serum using a procedure called enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, or ELISA. ‘We analyse immunological factors as well as molecules that are connected to neuroregeneration,’ explains Schipke. By looking at their concentration and how they relate to each other, the company’s algorithm can determine the risk of Alzheimer’s with 80% accuracy. Considering that many relevant molecular processes run behind a firewall – the so-called blood-brain barrier, impermeable for most substances –, this accuracy is promising. After years of development and a series of tests on patients, Predemtec is now planning to bring their blood test to market by late 2020. This will include a testing software that they developed with Oaklabs, a partnering start-up.

At this juncture, some may pose the question as to what the benefits of early detection are in this case. What is the point in knowing that one’s life will invariably lead to dementia? As somebody researching the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s for a decade, Schipke has heard this question many times. ‘Our test determines the Alzheimer’s risk of patients with mild cognitive impairments with high accuracy,’ she says, ‘and should be complemented by intense psychometric testing.’ This helps to identify the disease at a stage when targeted countermeasures can slow down its course. They can include to stop taking medication that worsen the symptoms, more exercise, or abstaining from alcohol and nicotine. Some patients react well to medication specifically targeting Alzheimer’s (like acetylcholinesterase inhibitors). ‘The disease is incurable. However, preventive measures can enable patients to increase their quality of life for an average of nine years,’ she says. An awareness of their risk of Alzheimer’s one or two decades before the onset enables patients to change their habits early on. Once the memory loss hits, however, any countermeasure is too late.

Schipke has found a way to channel her knowledge gained in year-long fundamental research into concrete Alzheimer’s prevention measures. With a new team in a new location – the company moved from Henningsdorf into the Innovation and Start-up Centre IGZ in Adlershof in mid-2019 –, she is eager to bring the early detection test to market. It was made possible by the fact that, under the roof of Predemtec, biochemists, psychologists, computer scientists, physicians, sponsors, and patients were so committed to preserving quality of life that they found a common language. In this way, they are doing the complete opposite to their adversary, the destroyer of memories and language.

By Peter Trechow for Adlershof Journal