Big news on the brain-disease front: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given full approval to the first drug on the market that has been shown to effectively treat Alzheimer's disease.
The drug, Leqembi, clears amyloid plaque buildups in the brain. That can slow the disease, which over time can affect memory and thinking skills, eventually robbing patients of the ability to do simple tasks.
Full approval of the drug means it will be more accessible to Medicare patients; previously, CMS, which provides insurance to many Alzheimer's patients, wouldn't cover the drug, which retails for $26,500 yearly without coverage. The drug had been given accelerated approval in January, but this new decision is the final hurdle for making it more available to those who need it.
There are some caveats: Leqembi only seems to work on those with early forms of Alzheimer's, about one in six of those with the disease. In the U.S., though, that still amounts to about a million patients. The drug isn't a cure, it's just meant to slow the progress of the disease. In one clinical trial, it slowed declines in cognitive abilities and functions by 27 percent.
Dr. Joanne Pike, president and CEO of The Alzheimer's Association, said, “This treatment, while not a cure, can give people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s more time to maintain their independence and do the things they love."
The Association says 21.3 percent of Black Americans age 70 and older are living with Alzheimer's. Stunningly, twice as many who are Black in the U.S. are afflicted compared to white people.