An experimental drug to treat Alzheimer's disease has had some promising results in early trials with patients.
The drug called Rember (methylthioninium chloride) is in the second of three stages of development and has had some success in halting the progress of mental deterioration associated with the disease.
Scientists from Aberdeen University say the drug targets the build-up of a specific protein in the brain, called Tau, which causes tangles to build up inside cells involved in memory, and destroys them in the process. Rember is the first treatment specifically designed to target the Tau tangles.
The drug was given to 321 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease in 30, 60 or 100mg doses of the drug or a placebo and the 60mg dose produced the most significant effect as the patients showed an almost seven-point difference over 50 weeks for symptoms of dementia.
The team say an 81 percent difference in rate of mental decline was seen compared with those not taking the treatment and at 19 months there was no significant decline in mental function in patients taking the drug.
They say imaging data also suggests the drug may be having be most effective in the parts of the brain responsible for memory.
Preliminary results of the study were presented this week at the International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease in Chicago by Professor Claude Wischik.
Larger trials of the drug are planned to start in 2009, and researchers are also investigating whether the drug has a role in prevention of the disease.
The drug which was developed by Singapore-based TauRx Therapeutics, could be on the market by 2012.
Experts say Rember is a major new development in the fight against dementia and is the first evidence that a new drug can improve cognition in people with Alzheimer's by targeting the protein tangles that cause brain cell death.
Alzheimer's experts are optimistic about the results, but say larger trials are now needed.