Cephalon Inc. researchers have taken the first step towarddeveloping drugs to inhibit the formation of the neuriticplaques associated with Alzheimer's disease.

In particular, the scientists have discovered a class of smallorganic molecules that are able to interfere with the proteaseactivity that converts precursor proteins in the brain to thepeptides that aggregate into the toxic beta-amyloid deposits orplaques. It's believed that under normal conditions the beta-amyloid peptides are secreted by nerve cells or dissolved.

Robert Siman, Cephalon's (NASDAQ:CEPH) senior director ofbiochemistry, presented the in vitro results Thursday at theConference on Neurodegenerative Diseases in Lake Buena Vista,Fla.

The researchers have assayed the effects of their proteaseinhibitors on the ability of cultured neural cells to secrete beta-amyloid. "We expect that by inhibiting these proteases (thatproduce the beta-amyloid peptide) we will be able to preventthe further degeneration of nerve cells that lies at the root ofAlzheimer's," Siman said.

Cephalon of West Chester, Pa., has been collaborating withSchering-Plough Corp. since 1990 on developing andcommercializing products to treat Alzheimer's disease. In fact,Schering-Plough (NYSE:SGP) reiterated its commitment to theprogram by making a scheduled yearly payment of $4 millionin late June.

-- Jennifer Van Brunt Senior Editor

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