Dec 02, 2022

Lecanemab: A “miracle drug” for Alzheimer’s? Some say no

02_12_22 Alzhaimers

A recently released report has boasted a new drug is behind the reduction in cognitive decline for those living with Alzheimer’s, but experts warn it isn’t a fix-all solution for the condition. 

Japanese drugmaker Eisai and its US partner Biogen have announced that the drug, Lecanemab, has been shown to slow the progression of the disease in its early stages at an Alzheimer’s conference in San Francisco.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could approve it for consumers as early as January, meaning it could be approved and available in Australia soon after.

Dementia Australia Professor, Michael Woodward, was at the conference and said while these results are a “breakthrough” after a dry spell in the development of treatment for Alzheimer’s, it’s no “miracle drug”.

“It’s a major breakthrough but not a miracle cure – in fact, it doesn’t cure the disease it just slows down the rate of decline,” Professor Woodward explained.

“This drug should only really be used in the context that it was used in the trial, which is only for people with mild Alzheimer’s and Alzheimer’s that has been proven by some sort of biomarker such as a blood test. 

“It’ll possibly only help about 10-20% of people with Alzheimer’s, so before everyone rushes off to their General Practitioner (GP), it’s not going to be something they can just write a script for.”

Scientists are still unsure about how Alzheimer’s forms and how to properly treat it, but it is suspected that an amyloid or protein buildup in the brain plays a key role.

This “miracle cure” drug follows the FDA’s approval of Biogen’s first amyloid-targeting drug, Aduhelm, last year which has since received criticism for being too expensive and inconsiderate of FDA advisors.

But Professor Woodward said Lecanemab is an expansion of Aduhelm and, if approved, would see patients have access to two drugs with promising results for the first time ever. 

“[Lecanemab] caused 27% less decline in cognitive function over an 18-month period and that’s pretty exciting,” he said.

“It also helped with function, other measures of memory and the biomarkers of the disease so overall, it was a positive study.”

In the study, almost 1,800 people in the earliest stages of their Alzheimer’s diagnosis were administered with intravenous Lecanemab or a placebo every two weeks for 18 months.

Researchers tracked them using an 18-point scale that measures cognitive and functional ability and found the conditions of those given Lecanemab declined more slowly and were 31% less likely to advance to the next stage of the disease during the study.

The results have been published in The New England Journal of Medicine, highlighting some side effects of these amyloid-targeting drugs which can include swelling and bleeding in the brain. 

Concerns have also been raised about what other medications can be taken alongside Lecanemab, as two deaths have been publicly reported among Lecanemab users who were also taking blood-thinning medications. 

Professor Woodward added that the trialling of other drugs to help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s was discussed at the conference.

The drugs Anavex and Brexpiprazole are currently being trialled overseas to see if they can help treat Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia and are already said to be producing promising signs of reducing cognitive decline and signs of agitation. 

Designed to treat more moderately advanced dementia patients, these drugs have produced interesting preliminary results that could make them viable treatment options in the future. 

“We’re starting to get a range of medications for the spectrum of Alzheimer’s disease and this is a very promising development,” Professor Woodward said. 

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