Scientists have developed a new test that may be able to predict Alzheimer’s disease years before the first symptoms appear, Indian drug maker Piramal Healthcare said on Sunday in a statement announcing its purchase of German drug maker Bayer Pharma AG’s portfolio of molecular imaging research and development.

Those assets purchased by Piramal, include florbetaben, an imaging agent that binds to deposits of the protein beta-amyloid accumulating in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, is designed to help doctors identify people who are more likely to go on to develop the disease.

Florbetaben, like Eli Lilly and Co.’s Amyvid, which was approved last week by the FDA, is one of several new radioactive drugs being used to detect Alzheimer’s disease.

Results from the drug’s phase three study, presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in New Orleans, involved more than 200 end-of-life patients, with and without dementia, who had undergone PET scans using florbetaben as a tracer and MRI scans.

Researchers then compared plaque levels from the autopsies of 31 people who had died during the trial to their earlier scans, including 60 brain region autopsies from health volunteers, and found that florbetaben successfully identified 77 percent of positive diagnosis and 94 percent of negative diagnoses.

“This is an easy, non-invasive way to assist an Alzheimer’s diagnosis at an early stage,” Dr. Marwan Sabbagh said at the conference. “These results confirm that florbetaben is able to detect beta-amyloid plaques in the brain during life with great accuracy and is a suitable biomarker.”

While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, experts believe that the key to slowing or even stopping the mind-robbing disorder would be in early detection.

“Finding ways to increase the number of early and accurate diagnoses is essential if we are to ensure people have access to vital treatments, support and information. Yet at the moment, only 43 percent of people with the condition ever get a diagnosis, meaning hundreds of thousands of people are left struggling alone in the dark,” Dr. Anne Corbett of the Alzheimer’s Society said in a statement.

“This drug research looks positive but was carried out in people with later stage Alzheimer's. We will need to see if it can be converted into a useable and cost effective diagnostic tool to detect very early signs,” Corbett added.

While Piramal did not disclose how much it paid for Bayer’s portfolio, it estimated that the market for PET imaging agents for Alzheimer's disease, like florbetaben, has a global market potential of up to $1.5 billion.

Around 5.1 million Americans are already affected by Alzheimer’s or other similar dementias, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that that number is expected to double every 5 years, is expected to reach up to 16 million by 2050.

More than 35 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s, and scientists have not been able to pinpoint the cause of the mind-robbing condition and there is no currently no cure.