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NPR: An Alzheimer’s Drug Is on the Way, But Getting It May Still Be Tough. Here’s Why

NPR recently interviewed Zaldy Tan, MD, MPH, medical director of the Jona Goldrich Center for Alzheimer’s and Memory Disorders in the Department of Neurology at Cedars-Sinai, about lecanemab—the new Alzheimer’s medication that’s now fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—and why it may be difficult to administer the therapy.  

Lecanemab, which must be given through an intravenous (IV) infusion, has been shown to slow disease progression in patients with early-stage Alzheimer’s who have elevated levels of beta-amyloid proteins in their brain. The drug removes these proteins, which are thought to cause Alzheimer’s.

While the medication holds promise for more than 1 million people with early-stage Alzheimer’s, it comes with caveats, Tan told NPR host Jon Hamilton. The treatment takes 18 months to work and only slows memory loss by about six months.

“’So, what does that six months mean to them?’ is my question,” Tan told Hamilton, “and whether that is worth showing up for an infusion every two weeks and risking brain bleeding and swelling.”

Tan, who also holds the Carmen and Louis Warschaw Chair in Neurology at Cedars-Sinai, explained that one of the obstacles to offering the treatment is meeting the guidelines imposed by private insurers. Patients will be required to undergo an evaluation and diagnostic testing—not fully covered by insurance—to determine whether they can be treated.  

“If that requirement becomes very restrictive, then only specialized centers will really be able to do this,” Tan told Hamilton. “And because of the limited capacity, I anticipate there will be a wait to get this medication.”

Though lecanemab is not a cure, Tan said it’s a step in the right direction. “It is a positive thing, because if we are going to get eventually to an effective and safe therapy, we need to start somewhere,” he told Hamilton.

Click here to read and listen to the complete segment on NPR.