AstraZeneca has bagged Eli Lilly as its partner to jointly develop and commercialise an early-stage Alzheimer’s disease treatment.

The compound in question is AZD3293, an oral beta secretase cleaving enzyme (BACE) inhibitor. Inhibiting BACE is expected to prevent the formation of amyloid plaque and eventually slow the progression of the disease.

Under the terms of the agreement, Lilly will pay AstraZeneca up to $500 million in development and regulatory milestone payments, with the first $50 million due in the first half of 2015. The companies will share all future costs and revenues post-launch.

The companies say they aim to progress AZD3293 rapidly into a Phase II/III trial in patients with early Alzheimer’s. It has been shown in Phase I studies to significantly and dose-dependently reduce levels of amyloid beta in the cerebro-spinal fluid of Alzheimer’s patients and healthy volunteers.

Mene Pangalos, head of innovative medicines and early development at AstraZeneca, said Alzheimer’s is “one of the biggest challenges facing medical science today and BACE inhibitors have the potential to target one of the key drivers of disease progression.” He added that “by combining the scientific expertise from our two organisations and by sharing the risks and cost of late-stage development, we will be able to accelerate the advancement of AZD3293 and progress a promising new approach””.

David Ricks, head of Lilly Bio-Medicines, noted that the firm has been committed to research in Alzheimer’s disease for more than 25 years and its “pipeline of potential medicines and diagnostic agents targeting the known hallmarks of the disease has been bolstered” by this alliance. He added that the pact “moves us one step closer to achieving our goal of making Alzheimer’s dementia preventable by 2025”.