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Alzheimer’s Association, doctors: ‘We’ve been waiting for this for a long time’

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — Most of us know someone who has battled Alzheimer's Disease. Now, a new treatment is on the market, a first-of-its-kind intravenous drug to slow the progression it.

"They will have opportunity and potential to access something that could their change their life," Dr. Joanne Pike, the Alzheimer's Association's Chief Strategy Officer, says.

The drug, Aducanumab, is the first new treatment for Alzheimer's Disease in nearly two decades. It aims to slow the progression of the disease by removing sticky deposits of a protein called beta-amyloid from the brains of Alzheimer's patients.

Doctors say this is a gateway for treating brain diseases and advocates are thrilled about the hope the drug offers.

That's because we only have a finite amount of time, but for Alzheimer's patients, time is stolen.

This new drug could give families time back "to make plans in the future, to spend more time with with their family, [and] to hold on to their memories," Melanie Chavin, the Chief Program Officer for the Alzheimer's Association of Illinois' Chapter, says.

According to OSF St. Anthony Chief Medical Officer Dr. Stephen Bartlett, it works by targeting protein build up.

"It reduces the rate of plaque formation in the brain of a patient with early Alzheimer's Disease," Dr. Bartlett says.

Aducanumab is given once a month and is the first to treat the disease, not just the symptoms. It's an option advocates say they've been waiting for for a long time.

"I think it takes a real weight off of their shoulders to know that there's something out there that might keep them at the stage that they're at much longer," Chavin explains.

"It's the the first drug to actually do something about what's going on biologically in the brain," Dr. Bartlett points out.

And while it's not a cure, Dr. Bartlett says it opens doors to study the brain and treat other illnesses.

"The bigger story in this is the explosion of biotechnology and treating so many other disorders that we never dreamed of," Dr. Bartlett says.

But there have been questions about the drug's effectiveness. Dr. Bartlett says that while the data showed plaque reduction, it didn't necessarily stop deterioration. But he says because the reduction of plaque build up is so great, the FDA says the drug will likely be effective over time, and Dr. Bartlett agrees.

"It appears that from the data that the patients tolerated the medication quite well," Dr. Bartlett adds.

Side effects of the infusion could be inflammation of the brain, which, according to Dr. Bartlett, can cause small brain bleeds. Those can be picked up on MRIs, a reason why MRIs would be a part of the monthly treatment for patients using the new Aducanumab therapy. If found, the treatments could stop briefly.

There is one potential barrier.

"Will the Blue Crosses and the other commercial insurers pay for this?" Dr. Bartlett asks.

Dr. Bartlett says an entire series of infusions could cost up to $50,000, but he thinks insurers will be on board.

"I think they will," he says.

A once hopeless situation, the new drug gives the most precious of resources back to patients and caregivers, more time.

Back in November, an FDA Advisory Panel of outside experts recommended against approving Aducanumab, saying there wasn't enough evidence to show it worked.

On Monday, that agency acknowledged the benefits "outweigh the risks of the therapy."

The Alzheimer's Association says around 230,000 people in Illinois are living with Alzheimer's Disease, ranking fifth among states in the country.

Richard Bodee

Richard Bodee is a reporter at WREX. He joined the 13 WREX team in June 2019 after graduating from DePaul University with a Master’s degree in broadcast journalism.

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