Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Advancements in Alzheimer’s Drug Approval: Promising, but Cautious Optimism Remains



A significant step forward has been taken in the approval of a second Alzheimer’s drug in the United States, with clinical trial findings indicating its effectiveness in slowing cognitive decline. This development has been celebrated as a major breakthrough, although experts remain cautious due to modest benefits, high costs, and potential life-threatening side effects. In this blog post, we explore the recent clinical trial findings and shed light on the ongoing discussions surrounding these Alzheimer’s drug.

The Effectiveness of Donanemab:

Clinical trials involving nearly 1,200 individuals in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease demonstrated that donanemab led to a 35 percent reduction in symptom progression over an 18-month period compared to a placebo. Cognitive test results and daily task performance were used to measure the drug’s efficacy. Manufactured by Eli Lilly, donanemab is administered through intravenous injections every four weeks.

Targeting Amyloid Beta:

Both donanemab and Leqembi, another recently approved drug, target amyloid beta, a protein that accumulates in the brain and hampers cognition. While these drugs represent significant breakthroughs, experts caution that Alzheimer’s is a complex disease, and amyloid beta is just one piece of the puzzle. Acknowledging the imperfections of these first-generation drugs, experts recognize the need for continued research and exploration of other potential treatment approaches.

Cautious Optimism and Modest Benefits:

Experts note that while the reduction in progression offered by donanemab and Leqembi is modest, it still represents progress in an area that has seen limited breakthroughs in recent years. An editorial accompanying the new findings emphasizes the need for more data to determine the long-term benefits of these medications. It also highlights the importance of considering the risks, affordability, and ease of administration of amyloid antibodies used in these treatments.

Considerations and Challenges:

Despite the potential benefits, there are concerns regarding the high costs and life-threatening side effects associated with these drugs. Out-of-pocket expenses for patients can be substantial, even with 80 percent of costs covered by Medicare. Additionally, three deaths in the clinical trials were likely caused by brain bleeds resulting from the treatments. Further research is needed to assess the long-term effects and potential unintended consequences of anti-amyloid treatments.

Importance of Inclusive Research:

It is crucial to recognize that the clinical trial predominantly included white patients, while Alzheimer’s disproportionately affects Black and Latino populations. This underrepresentation highlights the need for more inclusive research to ensure that the benefits and risks of these drugs are properly understood for all demographics.


The recent clinical trial findings regarding the effectiveness of donanemab in slowing cognitive decline offer hope for those affected by Alzheimer’s disease. While experts acknowledge the modest benefits, they also emphasize the need for continued research, affordability, and consideration of potential side effects. As these drugs move into real-world use, gathering more data and conducting inclusive research will be crucial to understanding their long-term effects and ensuring equitable access to effective treatments for all individuals affected by Alzheimer’s.

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