New FDA-approved drug known to tackle Alzheimer’s causes, not just symptoms

The drug, Lecanemab, is a monoclonal antibody treatment. It will be most effective for people...
The drug, Lecanemab, is a monoclonal antibody treatment. It will be most effective for people in the early stages of the disease.(CNN)
Published: Jan. 16, 2023 at 6:06 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A Madison-area psychiatrist is “cautiously optimistic” about lecanemab, as the new drug seeks to meet an urgent need for some of the 6.5 million Americans affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

The drug is known to slow the progression of the illness by one to two years, SSM Health Psychiatrist Dr. Anne Koplin said. Koplin, who has researched Alzheimer’s for decades, said “It’s clearly an unmet, urgent need right now, and I am excited about anything that could possibly be helpful to people.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave the drug accelerated approval earlier this month.

In the agency’s statement, Dr. Billy Dunn with the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research wrote, “This treatment option is the latest therapy to target and affect the underlying disease process of Alzheimer’s, instead of only treating the symptoms of the disease.”

But lecanemab (brand name Leqembi) is not for everyone.

It’s meant for patients with early signs of cognitive impairment, Koplin said. “It is an IV drug every two weeks, so that is quite a burden on a person who’s still very mild.”

The maker Eisai has set the price at $26,500 a year. Koplin said it is unclear how long patients should use the drug.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released a statement earlier this month saying it may reconsider its current coverage as data becomes more available.

Koplin also points out the side effects. Some, like nausea, are mild. But other risks include brain swelling and bleeding.

Expecting lecanemab to become available later this month, Koplin said she plans to prescribe it on a case-by-case basis.

“Most people know someone who’s had Alzheimer’s or has been a caregiver,” Koplin said. “It is tough, so if there is something that can possibly stave it off [for] a few more years with the grandchildren and traveling, enjoying life, doing what you like to do. That’s worth something.”

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