A brand new breakthrough drug for sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease is currently on trial and could lead to the first licensed treatment for this disease in over 10 years.

The new drug, called Verubecestat, is currently being developed by the pharmaceutical company Merck based here in the USA and is in phase three of clinical trials which is expected to last for at least two years. The trial was led by Irish American researcher Mark Kennedy.

Alzheimer’s disease is caused by an enzyme called BACE1. This enzyme is decisive in producing the protein amyloid beta which clumps together and causes a plaque to build up around the neurons in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers.

This new drug is aimed at targeting BACE1 so that it can prevent the build-up of these clumps from occurring in the first place. In a study published by the journal Science Transnational Medicine, results of the trials so far are promising but it is too early to determine the full effects of the drug, “Because deposition of amyloid begins several years before AD is diagnosed, it is possible that administration of an anti-amyloid agent will be more effective if given early in the disease process.”

Leading the research for this new drug is Irish American pharmacologist Dr Matthew Kennedy. Speaking with Scientific American magazine, Kennedy said: “It's a summary of the discovery and early-stage profiling of what we hope is going to be a new therapeutic for Alzheimer's. It represents well over a decade of investment in this project by many, many scientists.”

According to figures by the national Alzheimer’s Association in the US there are 5.4 million sufferers of the disease in this country with an estimated 5.2 million of these people 65 years of age or older. Figures from The Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland has reported that there are approximately 55,000 people suffering from some form of dementia, with three times the number of women sufferers than men.