Merck announced that it was ending a late-stage study of its Alzheimer’s drug after a committee monitoring the trial decided there was “virtually no chance of finding a positive clinical effect”.

The pharmaceutical group was expected to report headline results from the trial in the third quarter of this year, after studying the drug, Verubecestat, in 2,221 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

The company said it would continue trialling the medicine in patients in the very early stages of the illness, known as prodromal Alzheimer’s.

The trial failure comes just a few months after Eli Lilly announced that its Alzheimer’s drug had also flunked a final-stage study, and will raise concerns that the central hypothesis of what causes the disease is flawed.

Many neurologists believe that the build up in the brain of a sticky plaque known as amyloid is the primary cause of Alzheimer’s, although a string of drugs designed to clear the deposits have all failed.

Shares in Merck fell 1 per cent in after-hours trading, reflecting the low probability that investors were assigning to a successful trial.

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