For the first time in roughly two decades, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new Alzheimer’s medication in the hopes of helping people slow the spread of the disease. However, the decision to move ahead with the product, which is called Aduhelm, isn’t without its controversies.
Aduhelm contains a drug called aducanumab, which decelerates the spread of amyloid beta plaques that damage brain cell function and limit neurons’ ability to communicate with one another over time. This is what causes the mind to deteriorate. What made Aduhelm so promising during clinical trials was that unlike other existing Alzheimer’s drugs, it didn’t just lessen symptoms, it also attacked the plaques themselves to slow the progression of the disease at the foundational level. Overall, patients who took it saw 22 percent less cognitive decline than those who didn’t over the course of 18 months. For now, the medication is disseminated throughout the body in the form of a monthly intravenous infusion, and it’s meant for people with mild cognitive dysfunction and memory problems as opposed to folks with more severe cases that’ve progressed significantly.
While the results may seem miraculous, many members of the scientific and medical communities are still unsure if Aduhelm is as effective as the FDA claims, and there are concerns around giving people false hope that it’ll work as it goes to market. Moreover, a full year of monthly IV treatments, which amounts to 12 doses, currently costs $56,000 without insurance coverage, which is unattainable for most people. That price also doesn’t even include additional procedures that are often needed when treating Alzheimer’s, like regular brain scans and ongoing diagnostic help.
Aduhelm’s manufacturer Biogen will have to work out criticisms surrounding the steep price, but the FDA says that it’s confident in its decision and that it’ll continue monitoring the drug’s ongoing results. Regardless, here’s to hoping that there are other encouraging treatments in the pipeline that can prevent Alzheimer’s and better manage its symptoms.