New Treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease Approved by the FDA

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A new drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease, Aduhelm, has been approved by the FDA. This drug reduces the amount of amyloid in the brain. It is given in monthly infusions in a vein of the arm, on an ongoing basis.

Amyloid is a protein that accumulates in the brain of people who will develop Alzheimer’s disease. People with excess amyloid in the brain may be normal or have very minor problems with memory or language.

To find out whether a person has excess amyloid, we can do a spinal tap, or a test called positron emission tomography (PET). The PET scan is like a CT scan, but typically costs $4,000 and is not covered by insurance. This may change, now that a medication to remove amyloid is available.

Once excess amyloid has been in the brain for 10-15 years, another protein, tau, begins to spread in the brain. When tau has spread, removing amyloid from the brain is not likely to help. At this stage of the disease the person will have clear-cut problems with memory or speech.

We still do not know whether insurance companies will cover Aduhelm treatment. Biogen, the pharmaceutical company that makes this medication, has announced a yearly cost of $56,000.

Clarifying how much this medication will cost to the patient is likely to take a few months. As more information becomes available, we will update this note. Your comments on it are welcome.