Merck and Co announced that it has started the mid-phase of testing its drug against Alzheimer's disease, a move that places the drug-maker ahead in the race for finding a treatment for the disease.

The drug MK-8931 is a β-amyloid precursor protein site-cleaving enzyme (BACE) inhibitor that blocks the activity of beta secretase, an enzyme linked to production of toxic beta amyloid protein. This protein forms plaque in the brain and the brain begins losing its capacity to work normally. In previous studies, the drug was found effective in reducing 90 percent of beta amyloid protein circulating in the cerebral spinal fluid.

"It's like shutting the faucet so nothing comes out," Darryle Schoepp, head of neuroscience at Merck said in an interview to Reuters Health.

Merck said that the study to test the drug's safety will involve 200 patients with the disease. The study will evaluate the efficacy of three doses of the drug compared to placebo. Later, the drug trial expects to enroll about 1,700 patients.

Recently, Eli Lily had announced the drug trial results of solanezumab - a drug that slows down the progression of Alzheimer's disease in people with mild to moderate levels of the disease.

Pfizer Inc and Johnson & Johnson had recently scrapped tests for a similar drug - bapineuzumab aimed at slowing down Alzheimer's after its disappointing results in drug trials.

The drug made by Eli Lily reduces the plaque after it has formed while the new Merck drug affects the pathway that produces the culprit protein, Schoepp told Reuters Health.