Falcon: Clinical Trials to Focus on Alzheimer’s Crisis in Starr County

GAP is proud to support the grand opening of #GAPNet El Faro Health and Therapeutics, the first private research site in Starr County, Texas. Starr County is a 97% Hispanic Community with the highest prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease in America.

Legendary Starr County physician and Baylor College of Medicine Trustee, Dr. Antonio ‘Tony’ Falcon is set to announce new clinical trials to research Alzheimer’s Disease in his community.

Dr. Falcon (pictured above) will be working alongside his son, Dr. James Antonio Falcon on the project, along with the nonprofit, Global Alzheimer’s Platform (GAP) Foundation.

El Faro Health & Therapeutics is a medical research and care site in Rio Grande City led by the Falcons. A news conference is slated to be held there on Saturday, Nov. 13, to announce the project. The news conference will run from 10 a.m. to 12 noon. The address is 2791 Pharmacy Road, Rio Grande City.

In an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service, Dr. Antonio Falcon explained how the collaboration began. He gave credit to former Texas Congressman, Jack Fields, for connecting him to John Dwyer, president and founding board member of Global Alzheimer’s Platform (GAP) Foundation.

“In Washington I met the CEO of Global Alzheimer’s Platform. This is a foundation that is patient-oriented. A nonprofit that works with different companies and entities and therapies with patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The goal being to reduce the time and cost of medications that patients need to receive,” Falcon said.

“As an offshoot of that, they want to reach into Hispanic communities. We have a population that is one and a half times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and so there was a keen interest in adding Hispanics to their studies. That started the conversation. It has gotten us to the point where we are well into the development of getting ready to start our first clinical trial here in the next several weeks on Alzheimer’s research.”

Asked where the statistics about Starr County came from, Dr. Falcon said:

“According to Dr. Gladys Maestre, who is in charge of the new center in Harlingen that deals with Alzheimer’s, dementia and cognitive disorders, we are about one and a half times more likely to develop dementia here in Starr County than in the rest of the Valley.”

Asked if medical experts know why this is, Dr. Falcon said: “No, we don’t and that is part of the reason that we (El Faro) are in existence now. There is a lot of different factors that need to be considered and it is going to take a series of studies to start looking and seeing where these huge differences are coming from and what is causing it.”

Asked if he was surprised at the Starr County statistics, Dr. Falcon said: “Yes I was. I knew that we had a large number of patients that had dementia. I never realized it was that much of a difference. We do mostly geriatrics at our practice, so I thought we were seeing more of it because we see more older patients. But, in fact, there is a huge difference. I know Dr. Maestre and her group has a lot of plans on how to proceed with trying to find out if we can find the cause of this particular problem here in our community.”

Dr. Gladys E. Maestre is a professor of biomedical sciences at UT-Rio Grande Valley and director of the university’s Alzheimer’s Disease Resource Center for Minority Aging Research in Harlingen.

Dr. Falcon said he started his conversations with Dr. Maestre four to five months ago.

“The seminal event was the research company, Global Alzheimer’s Platform reaching out to us and saying we would like to do this because we feel there is a larger number. And when I started looking around and asking questions, sure enough, it was true. So it started out with that seminal event of that conversation in Washington between my friend Jack Brooks and John Dwyer.”

Asked why he and his son wanted to work with GAP on the project, Dr. Falcon said: “The first is the enthusiasm and vigor that they want to proceed with, having these kind of studies with Hispanics here in South Texas. On top of the enthusiasm and vigor, the quality of the group that is working on this. I am just very, very, impressed with how well organized they are and the number of excellent consultants they have that are available for us to tap into to proceed with this project.”

Dr. Falcon said he and his son could not have embarked on the project without the help of GAP.

“We feel they are a very, very, strong arm of what we are going to be doing,” Falcon said. “We want to start slow with a clinical trial called Bio-Hermes, which is being sponsored by Global Alzheimer’s. Through that study we are hoping to get our feet wet and start slow and go slow. And then add on studies as people see fit. (It is good) that they want studies with the kind of population we have in Starr County.”

Dr. Falcon said there are a disproportionate number of Hispanics with Alzheimer’s Disease when looking at the national population. He said he and his son want the studies to be ongoing. “We are looking at this long term. We are not looking at this short term. We are talking about years.”

Asked if anything like this has occurred in Starr County before, Dr. Falcon said:

“There have been studies into diabetes by UT San Antonio and those have been going on for a long time but I do not know of any trials that have occurred or are being done with Alzheimer’s disease.”

Dr. Falcon said he was pleased to be collaborating also with UTRGV. “There will be imaging studies as part of the Bio-Hermes studies. We hope to do them at the center in Harlingen and tap their expertise and their technology to help us accomplish part of the trial that we are trying to accomplish here in Starr County.”

Falcon added: “We are trying to get our feet wet but I already sense an enormous amount of support from those that are involved with cognitive disorder studies here in the Valley. It is a group that has a lot of enthusiasm on going forward and collaborating with each other as we try to go through this. And also, there is at least one medication that is now available. We are trying to get that medication into the arms of patients that qualify for the medication. That is a brand new step that has come out since we started looking at this project. That is a new dimension.”

GAP President Dwyer said: “Our collaboration with Dr. Falcon to develop El Faro Health & Therapeutics will improve neurological care for people in the Rio Grande Valley, and can improve the health outcomes for traditionally underrepresented people everywhere. The Alzheimer’s public health crisis happening in Starr County highlights why we need more opportunities for clinical trial participation from all the people who are affected by the disease.”

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar represents Starr County. He said:“The opening of El Faro Health & Therapeutics in Rio Grande City is an important milestone for the Rio Grande Valley, which has one of the highest rates of Alzheimer’s in the country. As a supporter of Alzheimer’s research in Congress, I know how beneficial it is for people in our region to have access to a first-rate clinical research facility. It’s critical that researchers consider the effect of any potential treatments on Hispanic people, who experience Alzheimer’s at a higher rate.”

More information:

  • Hispanics are 1.5x more likely to develop Alzheimer’s when compared with white people, yet they are severely underrepresented in clinical research.
  • At El Faro, the focus will be on recruiting Hispanic participants for Alzheimer’s clinical trials. Recruiting participants for Alzheimer’s clinical trials is one of the greatest obstacles to developing Alzheimer’s treatments. In fact, 99% of potential volunteers are never referred to or never consider participating.
  • One of the first clinical trials to be offered at El Faro will be Global Alzheimer’s Platform’s (GAP) Bio-Hermes Study. Bio-Hermes is a landmark clinical trial because once it is finished, we will have data that could revolutionize how we diagnose Alzheimer’s, ensuring that all future treatments work for everyone.
  • Bio-Hermes will enroll at least 20% Hispanic/Latino and Black participants (4x the national average). This means the results of this study will matter to our communities and will serve as a model for future trials.
  • People can enroll in these trials. Click here to learn more about clinical trial opportunities.

Originally posted by the Rio Grande Guardian on November 12, 2021.

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