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Controversial drug offers hope to millions of Alzheimer’s patients, skepticism from others

Published: Jun. 8, 2021 at 3:27 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 8, 2021 at 5:35 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The Food and Drug Administration approved a drug that could slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease for some patients. The agency hasn’t approved a drug for the deadly disease in nearly 20 years. But many health experts have expressed fierce skepticism about the drug since there’s a lot evidence that it works.

Biogen’s product, Aducanumab, later sold under the brand name Aduhelm, is designed to block protein in around the brain cells that could cause Alzheimer’s disease. Some clinical trials showed it could slow the progression of Alzheimer’s in patients if given during the early stages. It is not considered to be a cure for the disease.

“The drug has to be infused in the vein,” Weill Cornell Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic Dr. Richard Isaacson said. “They go in once a month and take the treatment. And the goal of the drug is to slow down disease progression. Does it help with memory function? Maybe. But does it cure the disease? No. The goal of this drug is to slow progression towards dementia.”

Dr. Isaacson said patients with severe or moderate case of the disease may not have results from Aducanumab.

“The biggest risk of this drug is problems with swelling in the brain or even some small bleeding in the brain,” Dr. Isaacson said. “One reassuring aspect is that when used carefully and when used with surveillance MRI’s, brain scans, to make sure the side-effects aren’t happening, most people that do develop the side-effects actually end up being okay.”

If Aducanumab is successful in the early stages of the disease, Alzheimer’s Association, Greater Kentucky & Southern Indiana Chapter Executive Shannon White said that patient could have more treatment options.

“If you can delay/decline (the progress), there are additional treatments as part of a comprehensive treatment care plan, this is another tool in the toolbox for our families to be able to use,” White said.

There are 75,000 people that are living with Alzheimer’s disease in Kentucky ‚and 150,000 caregivers. Despite criticism of the FDA-approved drug, White said it gives them all hope.

“We hope this is the first step in spurring on additional research, we’ll have more drugs and more treatments become available soon,” White said.

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