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It’s the first drug shown to slow Alzheimer’s. Why is it off to a slow start?

Apr 13,2024

The first drug shown to slow Alzheimer’s disease hit the U.S. market over a year ago, but sales have lagged, major hospital systems have taken months to start using it and some insurers have rejected coverage.

Doctors also expect some patients will hesitate to take Leqembi due to its limited impact and potential side effects. They say it will take years to learn how best to deploy the drug and that work must be done to improve diagnosis.

“This is the start of a very exciting journey,” said Dr. Ambar Kulshreshtha, a suburban Atlanta family physician focused on dementia patients.

More than 6 million Americans, and millions more worldwide, have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia. There’s no cure, but Leqembi clears a sticky brain protein called amyloid that’s a key indicator of Alzheimer’s.

Studies showed that it can delay the progression of the disease by a few months when given to people with mild symptoms. Some experts say the delay may be too subtle for patients to notice.

The drug also can cause brain swelling and bleeding. Patients need regular brain scans to monitor for that.

The Food and Drug Administration gave Leqembi full approval last summer for patients with early stages of the disease. The federal Medicare program for people ages 65 and over covers Leqembi and the cost of scans needed to diagnose patients.

The drug’s maker, Japan’s Eisai, initially expected to have 10,000 patients taking the IV drug by the end of March. Company executives have since backed off that projection, though they say sales are growing.

Hospitals and health systems have needed more time than expected to set up their systems for delivering Leqembi, said Alexander Scott, an Eisai executive vice president.

“It’s not like we are adding a drug to an existing system,” he said. “They are building the system for the drug.”

The Cedars-Sinai health system in Los Angeles started administering the drug in early March. Getting there required months of meetings to iron out a plan to coordinate diagnosis, treatment and then monitoring for problems.

“We were very careful about it,” said Dr. Sarah Kremen, a behavioral neurologist.

Source: Healthworld

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