British drugmaker AstraZeneca and Eli Lilly of the United States announced a partnership on Tuesday to develop a new drug aimed at treating Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia.
Alzheimer's disease is a neurodegenerative disorder in which a buildup of amyloid plaque in the brain destroys neurons. The disease is rapidly growing and poses the biggest challenge in medical science.
Only a handful of drugs are available to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer's that can include memory loss, confusion, irritability, aggression and mood swings.
The drug's designers hope that an "inhibitor" targeting an enzyme called BACE that plays a key part in the buildup of plaque will slow progression of the disease.
"AstraZeneca and Eli Lilly ... today announced an agreement to jointly develop and commercialise AZD3293, an oral beta secretase cleaving enzyme (BACE) inhibitor currently in development as a potential treatment for Alzheimer's disease," the companies said in a statement.
Under the deal, Lilly will pay AstraZeneca up to $500 million (386 million euros) if the drug reaches key development and regulatory milestones.
AstraZeneca added that AZD3293 has been shown in Phase 1 studies -- the first in the lengthy three-step process to vet a new drug for safety and effectiveness -- to significantly reduce levels of amyloid beta in the cerebro-spinal fluid of Alzheimer's patients and healthy counterparts.
"Alzheimer's disease is one of the biggest challenges facing medical science today and BACE inhibitors have the potential to target one of the key drivers of disease progression," said Mene Pangalos, AstraZeneca's executive vice president of innovative medicines and early development, in the statement.
Health systems in Western countries are struggling to deal with Alzheimer's as it is costly to treat sufferers of the incurable disease which leaves sufferers increasingly reliant on assistance.