Clinical trials are set to start on a new drug, owned by Switzerland's Roche, which could slow the onset of dementia in Alzheimer's sufferers.
Tests carried out by Swiss, British and Japanese researchers have found that the non-toxic drug, CPHPC, erodes clumps of the amyloid protein that builds up in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.
Researchers think the protein may be responsible for causing the loss of brain cells in Alzheimer's sufferers, leading to dementia.
"I can't describe how excited I was," said Professor Mark Pepys from University College Medical School in London, who has been working on the idea for the past 25 years. "We've invented a new molecule - and it does exactly what we want."
CPHPC acts by targeting a protein called serum amyloid P component, or SAP, which binds the amyloid clumps together and makes them resistant to breakdown by the body.
Promising test results
Tests carried out by Pepys and his colleagues on 19 patients suffering from a disease called systemic amyloidosis, a serious disease related to Alzheimer's, showed the drug completely removed the protein deposits and reduced the disease-causing amyloid proteins.
"We have developed a powerful new drug for which there is much evidence it may be helpful in treating systemic amyloidosis and possibly also Alzheimer's," said Pepys.
However, Pepys cautioned that the team has yet to cure anybody of anything and said it was not clear whether the amyloid deposits cause the loss of brain cells and the dementia that Alzheimer's patients experience.
The Alzheimer's trial will involve five to ten patients who will be tested over several months to see whether the drug slows or stops their mental decline.
swissinfo with agencies