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NPR: Cost and Controversy Are Limiting Use of New Alzheimer’s Drug

National Public Radio’s Morning Edition program recently spoke with Zaldy Tan, MD, MPH, medical director of the Jona Goldrich Center for Alzheimer’s and Memory Disorders at Cedars-Sinai, about lackluster demand for the new Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm.

The Food and Drug Administration granted conditional approval of Aduhelm in June, making it the first new drug approved to treat Alzheimer’s since 2003.

The medication targets and eliminates amyloid plaque, the sticky substance that builds up in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, causing confusion and memory loss. It is intended for patients in the early stages of the disease, which affects 6 million people in the U.S.

There is no proof that eliminating amyloid plaque will reverse the disease or symptoms, Tan told Morning Edition. "This is not a cure," he said. “The disease will continue, and perhaps the best-case scenario is that someone will get a modest improvement in their cognition. But it’s not going to stop the disease from progressing."

Additionally, the drug’s side effects can be serious.

"It can cause cerebral hemorrhage and swelling in a significant number of patients," Tan said. "So, I think that’s something [patients] will need to consider when deciding whether to take this drug or not."

Patients also have balked at paying out of pocket for the $56,000-per-year medication, which isn’t yet covered by Medicare or commercial insurers. NPR reported that sales totaled only $300,000 in the three months following Aduhelm’s approval.

But because a treatment for Alzheimer’s has proved so elusive, doctors expected the first drug to enter the market to be imperfect, Tan told NPR. But, he said, "most of us didn’t anticipate that it [would] be this imperfect."

Click here for the complete story from NPR’s Morning Edition.