Trenton New Jersey AP

For Alzheimer’s patients and their families desperate for an effective treatment for the epidemic disease, there is hope from new studies starting up.

If the studies succeed, a medicine that slows or even stops progression of the brain-destroying disease might be ready in three to five years, said William H. Thies, chief medical officer of the Alzheimer’s Association.

After decades of stumbles and dozens of promising experimental drugs failing, scientists think they are now on the right track. They are targeting what they believe are the mechanisms to arrest a disease that steadily steals patients’ personality and ability to remember, think and care for themselves.

A vaccine is in midstage testing, and drugmakers shy about funding expensive treatment tests could start as many as 30 studies once they are more confident that their approach is sound, Thies said. Early next year, the first study to try to prevent Alzheimer’s begins — in people a decade away from symptoms but who have a genetic mutation that causes early onset Alzheimer’s. It will include three drugs that attack in different ways.

Drugmaker Merck & Co. has just begun the first combined mid- and late-stage study of a BACE inhibitor, a new type of drug designed to slow mental and functional decline by limiting production of amyloid beta, the protein that is the main ingredient in brain-damaging amyloid plaques, which are considered the most likely cause of Alzheimer’s.

Merck’s MK-8931 and some other experimental drugs aim to turn off the Alzheimer’s “faucet” by blocking production of amyloid beta. Other experimental drugs instead aim to bail out the sink while the faucet is still running, either by removing clumps of amyloid plaque from the brain or by binding to bits of amyloid beta protein and clearing them from the brain before they clump into plaques.

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