Merck Advances Alzheimer’s Treatment Into Next Trial

Merck & Co. (MRK) moved an experimental Alzheimer’s treatment into the next stage of testing as it aims to become the first drugmaker with a medicine that slows the progression of the mind-wasting disease.

The pill, called MK-8931, will be studied in 200 patients with the early stages of Alzheimer’s, the Whitehouse Station, New Jersey-based company said today in a statement. Merck could have results from the study, the second of three stages required to get U.S. regulatory approval, by late 2013, said Mark Schoenebaum, an analyst with ISI Group in New York.

With the move, Merck enters the race to be the first drugmaker to get a medicine on the market that modifies the course of the disease. Eli Lilly & Co. (LLY) reported mixed results from a late-stage study of its drug earlier this year and is waiting to hear if U.S. regulators will require another trial to win approval. Baxter International Inc. (BAX) also has a treatment in the final stages of testing and may have results next year.

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. said Nov. 30 that it had ended development of its experimental Alzheimer’s disease treatment after the drug was shown not to be effective. The medicine, avagacestat, was in the second phase of testing.

If successful in its phase II study, Merck could begin a larger 1,700 patient study by 2014, potentially putting Merck and Lilly in a head-to-head race, Schoenebaum said. Merck’s drug works differently than Lilly’s though both target the buildup of plaque in the brain, a hallmark of the disease.

Merck rose less than 1 percent to $44.44 at 4 p.m. New York time.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shannon Pettypiece in New York at spettypiece@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net

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