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First drug to treat Alzheimer’s gets okay, ‘historic’ day for patients, families

DES MOINES — There’s a promise of some relief for the 66,000 Iowans who are now living with the most common cause of dementia.

Lauren Livingston, communications director for the Iowa chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, says there’s much optimism as the FDA on Monday approved a drug for treating the disease, which she calls “historic” and the beginning of a completely new future.

“The science and research that went into it and behind it and all the data that came from it really shows that this drug does help people, especially in the mild cognitive impairment and early stages of Alzheimer’s to slow the progression of the disease,” Livingston says. “It gives them back more time with their families, doing the things they love.”

The drug aducanumab (AD-jah-CAN-ah-mab) is being produced by Biogen and she says there’s an important distinction, it’s a treatment for Alzheimer’s and not a cure.

“There are several other drugs on the market that help with some of the symptoms of the disease but this is the first one that actually changes the disease and slows the progression,” Livingston says. “It doesn’t reverse the disease but it does slow down the progression so someone’s not advancing through that early, middle and late stages quite as fast.”

This is billed as the first drug that slows Alzheimer’s disease, and she says the drug addresses the disease in a way that has never been done before, compared to currently approved drugs.

“It’s the first treatment that we’ve had in 20 years, so it’s a huge day,” Livingston says. “It’s going to lead to that second, third, fourth and ultimately, a cure. So, it’s really a step in the right direction. It’s going to invigorate more research into other treatments that are in the pipeline and I think we’re going to see more treatments coming out much sooner than another 20 years from now.”

It is anticipated that the drug will be made widely available in the very near future.

“Biogen, the maker of the drug, has been ramping things up in expectation that hopefully it would be approved,” Livingston says. “We don’t know yet the cost or the process to get it but we really encourage anyone who is interested in trying to get access to the drug to talk to their health care provider.”

Alzheimer’s is a progressive, degenerative and fatal brain disease. While 66,000 Iowans are now diagnosed with it, by 2025, that number is expected to grow to 74,000.

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