What’s New for Treatment of Alzheimer’s?
Despite massive public awareness campaigns and substantial government and pharmaceutical company support, there has only been one new medication approved for the treatment of Alzheimer’s since 2003.
Media is buzzing with news of the monoclonal antibody treatment aducanumab (Aduhelm ® just approved by the FDA for the treatment of Alzheimer’s dementia. This is truly exciting news, but it is not a cure all. The treatment will require monthly infusions intravenously, and will cost approximately $56,000.00 per year. Early reports indicate that Medicare Part B will pay for the drug, but there are no details yet as to how much of the cost Medicare will absorb and how much will need to be paid for by patients.
Clinical trials showed that Aduhelm ® reduces the amyloid plaques that are seen in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s, and that progression appears to be slowed, but that the disease is not reversed or cured. Like other antibody treatments for Alzheimer’s, Aduhelm ® performed poorly in initial trials, but appeared to do better when the data were reexamined. In fact, the advisory panel advised the FDA against approving the drug.
What does this mean for patients and families? First, it is likely going to be difficult to receive the medication because of the cost. Even if Medicare covers 100% of the cost, it will likely be difficult to get approval from the insurer. Second, a monthly infusion might be difficult for some patients and families, and might not be available in some areas. Third, effectiveness in addressing day to day problems associated with Alzheimer’s is still unclear.
The good news is that there are currently other treatments under clinical study with trials going on all over the world. Because of the seriousness of the disease, and the limited number of treatments available, clinical trials are actually treatment options at this time. Clinical trials are conducted under the supervision of a physician, patients are carefully followed for any side effects and for improvement during the study, studies are performed with full consent of either the patient or a legal representative, and there is no cost to the patient. In fact, often there is monetary compensation.
Finally, there are trials involving medications that are not intended to treat Alzheimer s specifically, but which aim to improve the lives of those living with dementia. One such trial involves a medication which shows promise for wandering and elopement behavior.
Hopefully, we will have an effective treatment for dementia within our lifetime, but until then, remember: a research trial can be a treatment option.
Clinical Trials of Texas in San Antonio is conducting two such research studies and we are actively looking for patients to help with this important work.
Please contact Clinical Trials of Texas: (210) 949-0122 with questions.
Martha Leatherman, MD, is an investigator for Clinical Trials of Texas, Inc. (CTT) and is board-certified in both adult and geriatric psychiatry.