Breakthrough Alzheimer’s Treatment Aduhelm

In 2007, a biopharmaceutical company named Biogen invented a revolutionary new drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease, which affects over 6 million Americans nationwide, 72% of which are over the age of 75. Recently, this drug was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Biogen is an American multinational biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Its drug, aducanumab, more commonly known as Aduhelm, targets the build-up of beta-amyloid proteins in the brain. This buildup of beta-amyloid proteins around the neurons of the brain is what is believed to cause Alzheimer’s disease. Aduhelm is a monoclonal antibody drug that stimulates one’s immune system to attack the beta-amyloid protein buildup in the brain, helping slow the disease’s progression. Aduhelm is infused intravenously into patients once a month and is administered over the course of one hour, every four weeks, and at least twenty-one days apart. 

However,  it is important to note that Aduhelm is not a cure for Alzheimer’s, and will not reverse the damage already done by the disease, but instead will slow the cognitive decline of the patient. Because of these aspects and the fact that it has only been recently approved, some medical professionals are still skeptical of the drug.

“Aduhelm is the first drug of its kind to try and treat the base cause of Alzheimer’s, but I feel like it needs more testing before being cleared for use,” said a charge nurse at Jupiter Medical Center who wished to remain anonymous.

Aduhelm is a controversial drug that is the first drug in 20 years with FDA approval to treat Alzheimer’s but has had mixed clinical trial results.

In clinical studies, Aduhelm has been shown to break down the amyloid plaques described above but has yet to show clinically significant slowing of cognitive decline, such as memory loss, wandering/getting lost, trouble handling money and paying bills, repeating questions, taking longer to complete normal daily tasks, and personality and behavior changes. 

These mixed results already made the drug controversial, but what really ignited the controversy was the recent case of a 75-year-old Alzheimer’s patient taking Aduhelm who was hospitalized and then eventually died as a result of brain swelling. Biogen is currently investigating the cause of the brain swelling, noting that Aduhelm probably is not a definitive cause. However, some medical professionals are not so sure.

“Originally, my patients and I were overjoyed that there was finally a treatment for Alzheimer’s, but after the recent case of brain swelling, we were less enthusiastic,” said a registered nurse at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center who wished to remain anonymous.

Some students who have relatives with Alzheimer’s are also a little dubious.

“I think that [my grandfather] would not want the treatment because it is too early and [the drug] has killed a patient by brain swelling, also he is not in a late stage of the disease,” said eighth grader Sage Ponchock. 

 An influential panel of medical experts also voted unanimously that there is no evidence that the drug provides a net health benefit to patients. The 15-0 vote, at a meeting convened by the Institute of Clinical and Economic Review (ICER), followed confirmation from the Cleveland Clinic, one of the country’s best-known health systems, and New York’s Mount Sinai Health System, that they had decided not to carry Aduhelm.

In addition, many insurance agencies, leary of the over $50,000 per year price tag per patient, do not cover Aduhelm, stating that the drug’s effectiveness is only worth $8,400 dollars a year. 

“The drug is too expensive, and I don’t trust it or its effectiveness, especially after someone died from it,” said a 74-year-old Alzheimer’s patient from Jupiter, Florida who requested to remain anonymous. 

Yet there are still those who feel that Aduhelm could be beneficial. 

“I think that the drug would have been good [for my grandfather] if he had access to it earlier,” said eighth grader Evan Sluiters. “It may have slowed [the] disease progression,” said Sluiters, whose grandfather is in the more advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. 

This treatment could be a huge breakthrough but should be treated with caution because we don’t know the long-term effects of Aduhelm, and it comes with a hefty price tag. Still, it is the first drug of its kind to target the believed root cause of Alzheimer’s disease, and could be a major breakthrough in the way the disease is treated.