This Haitian immigrant developed essential Alzheimer’s medication that is going to be highly rewarding

BY Preta Peace Namasaba February 28, 2024 3:03 AM EDT
Dr. Herriot Tabuteau. Photo credit: Dr. Herriot Tabuteau

America is the land of dreams – for people seeking opportunities and those who benefit from their ingenuity. But these dreams are often snatched away by Alzheimer’s disease as people lose a sense of self through dementia. Scientists are yet to fully understand the exact cause of Alzheimer’s, attributing risk to factors such as increasing age, family history and lifestyle choices. One thing is for certain, the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s is growing – and growing fast.

Data shows that more than 6 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s. In 2023, an estimated 6.7 million Americans age 65 and older were found to be living with Alzheimer’s. Approximately one in nine people aged 65 and older has Alzheimer’s. Moreover, as the size of the U.S. population age 65 and older continues to grow, so does the number and proportion of Americans with Alzheimer’s or other dementias.

There is however hope for the future. Haitian immigrant Dr. Herriot Tabuteau’s biopharmaceutical firm has developed an essential medication for the agitation associated with Alzheimer’s disease. This treatment is a lifeline to the millions of patients living with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. Like his groundbreaking medicines, Tabuteau’s trajectory has been one of excellence and remarkable reach.

Tabuteau immigrated to the U.S. from Haiti when he was nine years old. An academically gifted child, he excelled at school. He wrote a book called “How to Get A’s in School,” published by New York’s LBT Publishing while in junior high school. Tabuteau graduated from Wesleyan University with a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and biochemistry in 1989.

He went on to earn his medical degree from the Yale School of Medicine where his fascination with the human brain thrived. Tabuteau’s honor thesis focused on studying the brain tissue of people who have epilepsy but are resistant to anti-seizure medication. He aimed to study GABA activity, the neurotransmitter believed to be able to inhibit seizures. His mentors thought he would become a neurosurgeon but Tabuteau decided to pursue investment banking instead.

Tabuteau began his professional career working as an analyst for Goldman Sachs where he specialized in healthcare analysis. He went on to work as a Senior Research Analyst at Banc of America Securities covering the hospital supplies sector and later as the healthcare analyst at Kingdon Capital. He then became a Senior Analyst and Partner at Healthco/S.A.C. Capital (now  HealthCor) where he was responsible for the biotechnology, genomics, and instrumentation portfolios. With this unique background in both medicine and investment banking, Tabuteau set out to create his own firm.

In 2015, Tabuteau founded Axsome Therapeutics,  a biopharmaceutical company developing and delivering new therapies for the management of central nervous system (CNS) disorders. The company develops drugs for treating ailments such as depression, chronic pain, and Alzheimer’s. Axsome remained under the radar for several years after going public in 2015. However, after reporting positive data in several clinical trials, its stock tremendously exploded within a single year. 

Axsome Therapeutics has developed a drug called AXS-05, a breakthrough medication for the agitation associated with Alzheimer’s disease. It is based on two off-patent drugs, Wellbutrin (bupropion) and cough syrup (dextromethorphan). The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted AXS-05 breakthrough therapy designation for agitation in 2020. In 2022, the FDA approved AXS-05 to treat major depressive disorder, making it the first oral NMDA receptor agonist approved for this condition. Marketed as Auvelity, the drug brought in $130 million in net product sales last year.

“The ACCORD results complement, and are consistent with, those from the previously completed positive ADVANCE-1 trial. We intend to discuss these findings with the FDA in the context of the ongoing clinical development of AXS-05 in this indication, with the goal of providing a much needed treatment to the millions of patients living with Alzheimer’s disease agitation and their caregivers,” Tabuteau said about his company’s breakthrough medication.

In addition, Axsome has developed an investigational drug AXS-07 to treat migraines. The biotech company acquired Sunosi, a drug for narcolepsy from Jazz Pharmaceuticals in 2022. Sunosi is the first and only dual-acting dopamine and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor approved by the FDA to treat excessive daytime sleepiness associated with narcolepsy or obstructive sleep apnea. Acquired at $53 million, the drug brought in $74 million in net product revenue in 2023 and is projected to hit $1 billion in sales in other treatment categories.

Axsome’s stock has risen by 570 percent since its IPO, giving the company a market cap of $2.2 billion. Tabuteau owns 22 percent of the company’s outstanding shares. Espousing a press-shy persona, he is saving millions of lives away from the limelight.