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New Drug Slows Alzheimer's, but Has Catches

A new drug with the first clear evidence of slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease is soon to hit the market. Lecanemab, being sold under the brand name Leqembi, is a drug made to combat the early stages of Alzheimer’s, however, is not a cure. It is administered via IV every two weeks, and can slow the crippling disease by approximately five months.

This new FDA approved drug, invented by Japan’s Eisai and its American partner Biogen, is designed to target and clear away a sticky protein called beta-amyloid. This protein builds up into brain-clogging plaque, which is a key hallmark of Alzheimer’s. It also targets a slightly different form of the amyloid, possibly explaining why it works so well when other amyloid-targeting drugs did not.

In Eisai’s 18 month medical study of 1,800 participants, Leqembi appeared to delay the progression of early-stage Alzheimer’s for about five months. Those who had the drug still worsened, but not as rapidly as those given a placebo version.

Like other amyloid -targeting drugs, Leqembi can cause brain swelling and brain bleeds. In Eisai’s study, 13% of Leqembi recipients had brain swelling and 17% of Leqembi recipients had small brain bleeds. Minimal symptoms include dizziness and vision problems, but can be severe. The drug is only available to those in the early stages. Those also on blood thinners while taking Leqembi are at higher risk of side effects.

The drug will be available as early as January 23, 2023, however, patients will likely have to wait months to receive it. Medicare does not pay for the drug yet, as the drug has only received partial FDA approval. The FDA is set to review the larger 18-month study soon in order to give Leqembi a full approval. The IV drug will cost about $26,500 for a year’s worth of treatment, but will likely be much less if insurance covers it.

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