Potential new drug treatment for Alzheimer’s disease raises hope for patients, advocates and doctors in Pennsylvania
An estimated 280,000 Pennsylvanians are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease.
Phil Gutis is one of them. He was diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 54.
“There were a lot of tears. A lot of tears,” Gutis said on a recent Friday afternoon as he sat on the porch of his home in New Hope. “But at the same time, there was also a feeling of relief, because I knew something was wrong.”
Now, six years after his diagnosis, Gutis said he feels fine. He continues to work as a freelance publisher, writer, activist and passionate LEGO builder. He spends much of his time with his husband, Tim, and their four dogs.
Gutis credits his level of functioning to drugs like Aduhelm, which was controversially approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last year to target and eliminate amyloid brain plaque, a biomarker of Alzheimer’s disease. .
“The big controversy has been whether it helps slow disease progression,” said Gutis, who receives a monthly infusion of Aduhelm. “I think so.”
Now, a second anti-amyloid drug called lecanemab is showing similar, and perhaps clearer, results.
Biotech companies Biogen and Eisai announced last week that preliminary clinical trial data on lecanemab showed early success in slowing cognitive decline by up to 27% in people with mild to moderate disease.
Further results and data are expected later this year. In a Monday interview with WHYY’s Radio Times, Dr. Jason Karlawish said lecanemab results look promising so far.
Notably, Karlawish, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and co-director of the Penn Memory Center, said the trial of this drug was more inclusive and better representative of the population with Alzheimer’s.
About 25% of participants were Hispanic or African American, according to Biogen and Eisai.
“Compared to other Alzheimer’s trials and frankly, compared to many other diseases in clinical trials, this is noticeable diversity when it comes to race and ethnicity,” said Karlawish, “suggesting that efforts to provide equal access and improve access to clinical trials for the study have been successful.
Lecanemab is not without risks. Similar to Aduhelm, people may experience brain swelling or bleeding, which may be temporary or lead to more significant medical complications.
Medicine is also not a cure for disease. But Kristina Fransel, executive director of the Delaware Valley chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, said patients and their families should be given the opportunity to weigh the risks and try the treatment.
“You want to be able to consider something that might give you more time, whether it’s more time to attend a wedding or more time to attend a graduation, more time to spend with your family. , to participate in making health care decisions for yourself,” she said.That’s what this potential treatment means to people.
Fransel said that despite decades of setbacks and disappointments in advances in Alzheimer’s treatment, she and other advocates still remain optimistic and hopeful for new treatments with potential.
Karlawish added that advances like this could one day open the door to more treatment options.
“We should see a future where different kinds of approaches are available to treat disease, maybe even in combination,” he told Radio Times on Monday.
For now, Gutis will stick to his Aduhelm infusions, but said he is excited about the treatments that may yet be forthcoming to help people like him manage and live with an illness like the disease. of Alzheimer’s.
“Just being able to feel productive again, God, makes a difference mentally, you know?” he said. “Being able to become a productive member of society again is what these drugs give you. This time to be productive, to contribute, to not feel like your life is over. And it is not.
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