Although several competitors have halted testing of Alzheimer’s compounds — Merck & Co Inc has moved its experimental Alzheimer’s drug into the next stage of testing.

The drugmaker announced on Monday that it has begun Phase II and III clinical trials of its promising new class of oral Alzheimer’s medicine MK-8931, to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the pill with some 200 patients who suffer from mild-to-moderate stages of the disease.

If the company finds success in Phase II, which will compare the drug with a placebo, the study is expected to enroll up to 1,700 patients in the main Phase III of the new trial by 2014.

“Merck is committed to advancing the understanding and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Darryle D. Schoepp, Ph.D., senior vice president and head of Neuroscience and Ophthalmology, Merck Research Laboratories, in a statement.

“As the global health and financial burden of Alzheimer’s disease grows, innovative research is critically needed, and we need to accelerate this research wherever possible. This new study is an important step in our overall strategy to understand the potential of the BACE inhibitor mechanism and MK-8931, our lead compound, in multiple stages of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Merck has jumped into a race where rivals have experienced mixed results with their own compounds, aiming to become the first drugmaker to get a medicine on the market that slows the progression of Alzheimer’s.

Regardless of who’s first across the finish line, the new trials offer hope to those suffering from the mind-wasting disease.

Read the entire Reuters report.

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