LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — For the first time in nearly 20 years, the FDA approved a drug for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.
The drug Aducanumab, which will go by the brand name Aduhelm, was approved by the FDA Monday, marking a breakthrough in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.
"There was no drug that would target the underlying biology of the disease," said Dr. Kate Zhong. "There was no drug that would slow down the progression of the disease until today."
Dr. Kate Zhong and Dr. Jeffrey Cummings have been intimately involved in the drug's road to FDA approval since the first clinical trial in 2017.
Dr. Zhong was the senior director of clinical research at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas. Dr. Cummings was the director of the center, before both moved on to roles at UNLV.
Dr. Zhong said two clinical trials involved about 3,000 patients around the world, several of which were local.
"In essence, the city of Las Vegas really made a contribution and leading to the approval of this new, very exciting treatment for Alzheimer's," said Zhong.
So how promising is this new treatment for the 43,000 Nevadans with Alzheimer's? Dr. Cummings said the clinical trials involved mild patients so it may not be appropriate for all patients. He said the drug does not improve patients but rather slows the rate of cognitive decline.
"It's a subtle effect but it slowed the effect of a loss of memory by about 30 percent," said Dr. Cummings. "It slowed the rate of reduction in activity so daily living, how we live our lives by about 40 percent and it reduced behavioral problems even more."
Dr. Cummings addressed concerns over whether the drug should have been approved by pointing to the data.
"The data are controversial because one trial was negative and one trial was positive," he said. "But when you look at the patients who got the higher dose for a longer period of time in the negative trial, they performed very like the people in the positive trial who were getting the higher dose for the longer period of time."
Dr. Zhong said for Alzheimer's patients, families and caregivers, today is about hope. And she said there is more hope on the horizon, with more drugs currently in the pipeline.
"We are hoping this is really the beginning of a new era in which there will be many, many more treatment options available for our patients," said Dr. Zhong.
Dr. Cummings expects it to be between a year and two years for this drug to be widely available for Alzheimer's patients in hospitals and clinics across the country.