Septa Therapeutics' Alzheimer's cure fundraising raises concerns

Scientists in the field of bioethics are raising concerns about a Penticton biotech company crowdfunding $50,000 to research a cure for Alzheimer's disease.

Bio-ethicists say science crowdfunding bypasses regulatory framework

Scientists in the field of bioethics are raising concerns about a Penticton biotech company crowdfunding $50,000 to research a cure for Alzheimer's disease.

Septa Therapeutics claims it has identified the trigger that initiates the neurological disorder. Retired molecular biologist Diane Van Alstyne says she made a breakthrough discovery while combing through Alzheimer's research.

"And what did I find? One of our meningitis-related peptides. Something I had worked on in the past," she said.

"This just exactly fits the bill and I thought, oh my god, that's the trigger."

Instead of applying for research grants, Van Alstyne has decided to raise money to study her idea through crowdfunding.

Like all crowdfunding campaigns, she's offering an incentive: free Alzheimer's drugs for her backers when the drug is developed.

"That's definitely problematic," said UBC neuro-ethicist Julie Robillard.

"That sort of bypasses all the regulatory framework that we have in Canada for how drugs are distributed."

Robillard said there's also credibility concerns with crowdfunded medical research.

Ann Heesters, an associate director at the University of Toronto's Joint Centre for Bioetchics, said she's not surprised by the funding request. 

"It's an interesting development, but I suspect the time had to come given the stiff competition for resources in the research world," she said.

Still, she said she's concerned about the offer of pharmaceuticals as an incentive. 

"I see no exclusions on participation, or statements about participant rights, or about REB approval," she said. "All of these things generate more than a few blips on one's ethical radar."

But Van Alstyne said she stands by her methods.

"You know, I get results," she said.

Van Alstyne said if she can prove her theory, a large pharmaceutical company will buy up her research and bring the drug to market.

With files from Brady Strachan

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