Tests revealed that the drug, CPHPC, could successfully remove the build up of serum amyloid P component protein (SAP) from inside the brains of Alzheimer's sufferers.
A build up of SAP is often present in patients with Alzheimer's disease and is believed to promote the development of the amyloid plaques responsible for damaging the brain cells.
Currently, it is estimated that 700,000 people in the UK live with dementia, a number that is forecast to double in the next generation.
What is the research?
The drug CPHPC was first developed as a treatment for amyloidosis, a disease caused by the accumulation of abnormal amyloid in body tissues, before being tested as a treatment for Alzheimer's.
The researchers tested the drug in five patients, aged 53 to 67, who had mild to moderate Alzheimer's.
Patients were injected with the drug three times a day for three months.
At the end of the treatment period, the researchers found that there was a depletion of SAP from the blood and from the brains of all of the Alzheimer's patients.
Administration of CPHPC appeared to remove SAP without causing any noticeable side-effects to the patients.
What do the researchers say?
Lead researcher Professor Mark Pepys, from the dementia research centre at University College London, said: 'The complete disappearance of SAP from the brain during treatment with CPHPC could not have been confidently predicted.
'Coupled with the absence of side-effects, these new findings strongly support further clinical studies to see whether longer term treatment with CPHPC protects against the inexorable mental decline in patients with Alzheimer's disease.'
Fellow researcher Professor Martin Rossor, also from University College London, added: 'The safety of CPHPC, together with the novel action of the drug in removing SAP from the brain, is very encouraging.'
The researchers now plan to conduct longer, larger clinical studies to confirm the safety and to seek further evidence of the benefits of treatment.
What do other researchers say?
Dr Susanne Sorensen, head of research at the Alzheimer's Society, said that although it was 'very exciting' that the drug could potentially interfere with the process of protein tangles, it remained too early to say how the drug might benefit patients.
'This research is an important step forward because it shows the drug is safe to use in people with Alzheimer's.
'It provides a green flag for longer and larger studies to investigate if this drug can treat the symptoms, or even slow the progression of this devastating disease.'
Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, said: 'The results of this small study, involving five patients, are cause for cautious optimism. New treatments for Alzheimer's disease are desperately needed, and it's possible that this small molecule could be a future candidate.'
- CPHPC could prevent Alzheimer's by stopping the build up of amyloid plaques in the brain.
- The findings are based on results in five patients treated for three months.
- Longer and larger studies will follow up the results.