Controversial Alzheimer’s Drug Use Begins
With drug companies racing to be the first to cure dementia, one such manufacturer may have beaten others to the punch. Alzheimer’s is currently the most common form of dementia, and Biogen Inc. believe they may have found the answer. However, the news comes amidst speculation and outright objections from the medical community – and even members from its own panel of advisors. This didn’t stop Marc Archambault, of South Kingstown, Rhode Island from being the first candidate to try the intravenous drug.
What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia. Meanwhile, dementia is a general term to describe short-term memory loss, as well as the loss of general cognitive abilities. This downturn in cognition (the ability to complete basic problem solving and intake new information easily) causes major effects on an individual’s life. Indeed, it gets worse over time. So, early-onset can lead to mild disruptions in life and some confusion. However, later down the line, it can mean people with Alzheimer’s may become unable to hold a conversation, or even recognise and respond to their environment.
Alzheimer’s is caused by plaque build-up on the brain. It begins at a microscopic level, with proteins (known as beta-amyloids) blocking pathways between the nerve cells. As we use these nerve cells to communicate thoughts, feelings and basic bodily functions from one part of the body to the other, the “messages” stutter and can become “lost”. These proteins then continue building into plaques – a harder structure. These plaques make communication impossible for these areas around the brain.
While the greatest risk factor is age (65 and older), dementia and Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of ageing. There is currently no cure for the illness. However, there may be new medication available. And many are hoping that it is this medication which will help to slow the spread of the illness.
How Does the New Medication for Alzheimer’s Work?
The latest medication which has been given to Marc Archambault (the first person to receive such a medicine) is known as Adulhem. Given as a monthly intravenous (being injected directly into the veins) drug, it has been approved on the basis that it may reduce brain plaques.
As such, it’s important to remember that the drug works by potentially slowing one of the symptoms of the disease. Since we still don’t know the cause of dementia, it won’t reverse or stop the illness itself. Instead, the treatment focuses on slowing the overall progression of Alzheimer’s.
“This is good news for patients with Alzheimer’s disease. We’ve not had a disease-modifying therapy approval, ever,” said Dr. Ronald Petersen, an Alzheimer’s disease expert at the Mayo Clinic. However, he was careful to caution, “This is not a cure. It’s hoped that this will slow the progression of the disease.”
Objections from the Alzheimer’s Medical Expert Panel
Adulhem has been given FDA approval for use on “good candidates” outside of the clinical trial itself. Dr. Stephen Salloway, Brown University Medical School neurology professor, has told Reuters, “we are opening a new era in treatment.” Though he adds that it is important for clinicians to follow the clinical trial guidelines, adding “we really don’t have any evidence for more advanced patients with Alzheimer’s”.
However, even this approval was given against the advice of the expert advisory group. Citing reasons that include “questionable trial results” and “potential side effects”, three experts resigned from their post, following the approval. This includes Dr. David Knopman, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Indeed, Knopman has made his feelings clear to potential patients. “I may have talked one person out of using it”, he says, to Reuters. “I will turn over some of the responsibility to this team of people we are putting together. They will get my opinion.”
Further Complications and Pricing
Given that this drug has been researched and manufactured in the US, it’s not surprising that there’s a high price tag to come along with the release. Biogen, alongside Japanese drugmaker Eisai Co Ltd who are working in partnership on the drug, has set a price tag of $56,000 per year. A move which the Alzheimer’s Association (a longtime supporter of Biogen) state “is simply unacceptable”.
As such, the company and many lobbyists are currently hashing out deals and fine-print. All in an effort to make the drug more accessible for all. However, with America having a long past of struggling with healthcare and providing health equality for all, it’s unlikely that any changes will be made, soon.