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Merck, GE to collaborate on Alzheimer's drug development

(Reuters) - Merck & Co and General Electric Co's healthcare unit have agreed to collaborate on an experimental drug for Alzheimer's disease, the companies said on Tuesday.

GE Healthcare will supply Flutemetamol, an investigational imaging agent, to Merck for use with its experimental Alzheimer's disease drug MK-8931.

The companies hope GE's imaging agent will help identify patients who might benefit from a therapy such as Merck's, which targets beta amyloid, a protein that can clump together and form plaques in the brain. Such plaques have been found in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease.

MK-8931 is Merck's lead Alzheimer's drug candidate and is designed to modify progression of the disease as well as improve symptoms. Alzheimer's robs patients of their memory and can cause other cognitive disturbances.

Based on promising results from an early-stage clinical trial of MK-8931, Merck plans to move forward with a larger trial, called EPOCH, at multiple sites around the world.

Flutemetamol is a positron emission tomography (PET) imaging agent that has been able, in clinical trials, to detect beta amyloid in the brain.

GE Healthcare will supply Flutemetamol to help select patients for clinical trials and evaluate the agent as a companion diagnostic tool. Financial and other terms of the agreement between the companies were not disclosed.

(Reporting By Toni Clarke; editing by John Wallace)