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2 New Alzheimer's Drugs Show Promise in Early Studies

Experts caution that expectations are low in field littered with drug failures

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In this study, which was mainly designed to check the safety of the drug, researchers assigned 30 patients to take one of three drug dosages or a placebo for seven days. Patients on the highest doses of the drug saw reductions in beta amyloid in their spinal fluid of over 80 percent. Researchers say they saw no evidence of adverse effects.

"We can reduce amyloid to unprecedented levels," said Dr. Mark Forman, a senior principal scientist at Merck, the company that's developing the drug.

The problem, skeptics say, is that medications have been used to reduce beta amyloid before, and those had no clinically meaningful benefits for patients, at least for those already diagnosed with the disease. There have been some signs that lowering beta amyloid may be helpful for people who haven't yet begun to show symptoms of memory loss.

Forman said he thinks BACE inhibitors have a better chance of working, however.

"BACE inhibitors blocks the generation of amyloid at the very first step in its production. It's very different from what some of the other studies have done with antibodies that are really promoting the clearance of beta amyloid after it's formed," he said.

Experts agreed that the drug seems to work well to lower beta amyloid.

But, "It remains to be seen when you can do that and for how long and achieve a useful, clinical benefit," Cole said. "That's what we don't know and it will be a long time before we can figure that out."

Research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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