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Alzheimer’s drug shows promise in early results of study

Boston Herald - 9/28/2022

The millions of Alzheimer’s disease patients just got a bit of promising news — a new drug may be able to give them up to a couple more good years.

The findings are preliminary, but drugmaker Eisai Co.’s treatment, lecanemab, appeared to significantly slow the disease progression in a late-stage study, the company announced.

Early results of the 1,800-person study, which the company announced late Tuesday, showed patients who received the treatment had 27% reduced clinical decline compared to patients who received a placebo after 18 months.

The study measured mental decline and ability to do daily activities like getting dressed or feeding oneself.

The difference may not be immediately evident in the short term, said Hyun-Sik Yang, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Alzheimer’s clinical researcher. But in terms of a disease that progresses an average of eight years after diagnosis, the treatment could potentially delay late-stage dementia by years.

Alzheimer’s affects nearly 6 million people in the U.S. and is the most common type of dementia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It attacks parts of the brain that control thought, memory and language over time, slowly eradicating daily basic functions, and is fatal.

Scientists are still unsure what causes the disease, and there is no cure.

“The currently available, widely used treatments are mainly symptomatic,” said Yang of the few existing options. “But this one, if it is FDA approved, will be the first that can actually modify the disease course and slow down the progression.”

Eisai Co. will release full results in November, the company announced, and publish findings in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

The company is seeking accelerated approval from the Food and Drug Administration, which is likely to be decided by early 2023.

Eisai and Biogen will co-promote the drug.

The announcement follows the largely failed rollout of Biogen’s Aduhelm, the first new Alzheimer’s drug introduced in nearly two decades, last year.

Despite initial approval, the drug’s high price tag — initially $56,000 annually — and uncertain benefit led it to be rejected by insurers and mostly wiped from the market.

Shares of Biogen and other drugmakers surged Wednesday following the Eisai Co. announcement.

This is an “exciting time” for Alzheimer’s treatment development, Yang said, with several treatments targeting progression and preventative options in late-stage trials.

“I think people are starting to see hope that one day we may see some effective disease modifying treatment,” Yang said. “Hopefully this will become one of the first ones, and then many more.”

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