A cure for the brain wasting condition vCJD could be available within the next five years, according to leading prion disease expert Professor John Collinge.

Collinge, head of the Medical Research Council's Prion Unit in London, revealed to the World Congress of Neurology yesterday that a collaborative project between his centre and pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline was producing "very encouraging results." Researchers have sifted through 150,000 potential drug combinations and "We think it's possible, although one can't make any promises," said Collinge, "that in the next five years we may be able to produce something that blocks prion replication and provides a treatment for this disease."

The disease, which is linked to the consumption of BSE infected beef, is currently fatal and attacks the brain with infectious particles that convert healthy proteins into malignant agents (prions). Collinge explained that his research focused not on attacking prions but on stabilising the healthy proteins and preventing their transformation. He showed how, if the number of invading prions can be reduced, the human body would instinctively eliminate the rest.