Merck takes a bold step with Alzheimer’s drug

After a summer and autumn of setback in the Alzheimer’s research world, the pharmaceutical company, Merck, is taking the bold step of moving one of its drugs into Phase II/III testing.  This means that the drug will be tested on actual human patients with mild-to-moderate forms of Alzheimer’s disease.   The drug works by attempting to block an enzyme called beta secretase.  This enzyme is key in the production of beta amyloid proteins, which build up in the brain and cause plaque.  Researchers believe that the plaque build up from the beta amyloid proteins is a major contributor to Alzheimer’s disease.

Other drugs have attempted to remove the plaque that has already built up in the brain, with varying degrees of success. This is the first drug to actually attempt to prevent the plaque build up itself, rather than treat it once it is already there.  In Phase I clinical trials, the Merck drug succeeded in preventing more than 90 percent of beta amyloid protein from circulating in the cerebrospinal fluid.

The Phase II trial that is set to begin will compare the drug with a placebo in about 200 patients across the globe to test the drug's safety.  Assuming, the drug passes Phase II trials, it will then move to Phase III where researchers expect to enroll up to 1,700 patients to test the drug’s effectiveness on patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

If this drug is successful it will put Merck on par with Eli Lilly, another pharmaceutical company heavily involved in finding a treatment or cure for Alzheimer’s disease.  Lilly recently suffered a serious set back in its Alzheimer's treatment research after its experimental drug Solanezumab, which targeted existing beta amyloid proteins, failed its attempts to delay cognitive and physical decline in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

Sourced from: Reuters, Merck becomes bigger Alzheimer's player, with new trial