PHOENIX — There's new hope for the more than six million people suffering from Alzheimer's across the country. This week, the FDA approved a new drug that targets the disease in a way we’ve never seen before.
But some in the medical community have their doubts about its success and the breakthrough isn’t without controversy.
The drug is the first new Alzheimer's treatment approved since 2003, and the first to attack the biological origins of the disease instead of just disguising its symptoms.
“Since yesterday, I’ve had multiple phone calls. Every patient I have seen in the clinic has been asking me about this medication,” said Barrow Neurologist Dr. Anna Burke.
Dr. Burke and her team are part of the drug's clinical studies. She says while current medications can help hide symptoms, this new treatment can reduce the brain damage caused by the progressive disease.
"It is an antibody that attacks amyloid which is a pathological protein that tends to build up and form amyloid plaques in the brains of individuals who suffer from Alzheimer's disease,” said Dr. Burke.
The amyloid plague is thought to be a leading cause of brain cell death in patients. The first of its kind intravenous treatment hunts down the destructive proteins that form in the brain during the disease, preserving cognitive function in patients.
“It has been the hope to find a molecule that could go into the brain and kind of get rid of that amyloid,” said Dr. Todd Levine, Medical Director of Neurology at HonorHealth.
Despite the excitement around the drug, letters from prestigious medical organizations and even the FDA's independent advisory committee have fierce objections over its approval.
“The data from the studies that lead to FDA approval were a bit conflicting, one study showed no benefit, one study showed some benefit,” said Dr. Levine.
Dr. Levine says clinical trials around the drug are limited and will require continuous study around efficacy and side effects. Then there’s the drug's price - $56,000 a year.
"The treatments are intravenous, they are given once a month and it would be indefinitely,” said Dr. Levine.
How much of that cost as well as what's covered by insurance companies remains to be seen. At this point, it’s expected to be used only on patients in the early stages of the disease.
“There is a lot of hope, there’s a lot of excitement but there’s a lot to do still and a lot of research that is ongoing,” said Dr. Burke.