New drug Lecanemab offers hope to Alzheimer’s patients

Hilarija Matuleviciute, Staff Writer

About 6.5 million people in the United States live with a disease commonly known as Alzheimer’s. Among them, 70 percent are 75 years or older, though Alzheimer’s is not limited to people within that age group. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that causes memory to worsen and other critical mental functions like taking longer to complete everyday tasks, repeating questions, and personality and behavior changes. Alzheimer’s causes nerve cell death and tissue loss throughout the brain which ultimately causes the brain to shrink. The brain contains multiple regions that are all responsible for different functions. For example, the hippocampus is a region where all of our memories are stored. When the hippocampus shrinks, that results in memory loss.

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s. However, there is still available medicine to help reduce symptoms, such as Lecanemab, which the U.S Food and Drug Administration accelerated approval for on Jan. 6. It is the second of the new category for Alzheimer’s which slows cognitive and functional decline in the early stages of the disease.

Christopher van Dyck, MD, director of Yale University’s Alzheimer’s disease research unit, discussed the effect Lecanemab had on medical history.

“It’s very exciting because this is the first treatment in our history that shows an unequivocal slowing of decline in Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. van Dyck.

Lecanemab removes a sticky protein built up in the brain which is believed to cause the advancement of Alzheimer’s. The treatment itself contains antibodies that bind to the protein, Amyloid. The specific antibodies used to fight the protein are created in a lab that replaces the ones our body naturally creates. 

In a trial consisting of 1,795 participants with early-stage, symptomatic Alzheimers, Lecanemab had slowed clinical decline by 27 percent after 18 months of treatment compared to those who received a placebo. Participants of the Lecanemab treatment showed a 26 percent slowing of decline in use of cognitive functions and a 37 percent decline in daily living. Lecanemab is still a testing treatment that includes side effects. For example, the most common side effects of this treatment were flushing, chills, fever, rash, and body aches. Roughly 75 percent of the reactions happened after the first dose. Another potential side effect is fluid formation on the brain which occurred in 12.6 percent of trial participants compared to 1.7 percent in the placebo group. Studies show that Lecanemab proves lower rates of the side effect than other published trials of similar drugs. The progression can be seen on MRI scans and dosing is often continuous unless symptoms are detected. If symptoms are noticed, the dosing of the drug is stopped.

 The price tag for Lecanemab treatment is set at $26,500 a year, making it unaffordable for many people.

“I don’t know if we could afford it, but we’re going to cross that bridge when we come to it,” says Ann Domeck, who’s husband is enrolled in a phase 3 clinical trial of testing Lecanemab. 

Medicare will not cover the cost because it has grouped Lecanemab into a class of drugs requiring additional evidence of progress to qualify for coverage. 

Lecanemab displays promises for the future of Alzheimer’s research and for people with mild Alzheimers. 

“I’m extremely hopeful that the FDA will approve Lecanemab,” says Micheal Zuendel, 68, who has been taking medications ever since he was diagnosed with an early stage of Alzheimer’s. This treatment may be on track to be available to patients aged 65 years and older in the U.S as soon as this year.