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Alzheimer's Association encouraged by FDA approval of new drug but disheartened by lack of Medicare coverage

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Leqembi has been shown to be effective in slowing cognitive decline in patients with early stage Alzheimer's disease.

The Alzheimer’s Association Greater Missouri Chapter is encouraged by the approval of a new drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

Lecanemab-irmb or Leqembi is the second drug in a new category of medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration that target the fundamental pathophysiology of the disease.

Leqembi has been proven to slow cognitive decline in patients with early stage Alzheimer’s.

Lecanemab effectiveness

Clinical trials showed a 93 percent decline over 18 months in amyloid plaque in patients who received the highest dose and a 47 percent reduction in cognitive decline, according to Alzforum. Amyloid plaque is present in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s.

Sarah Lovegreen, vice-president of programs for the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Missouri, said the new drug will help patients remain independent longer "to keep those meaningful relationships and memories that they have with their families and loved ones, you know, and just do the things that they enjoy doing," she said, "so, it really provides more productive and independent time for those individuals."

Cost

The drug is expensive, though. The cost is around $26,500 per year to get started on the medication, according to Alzforum.

Lovegreen said the Alzheimer’s Association will advocate for lowering that price.

"Because what I really think is important to us is insuring that, you know, there's equitable availability of this drug so that people of all backgrounds are able to access it," said Lovegreen.

Limited Medicare coverage

Following the approval of the Alzheimer’s drug, Aduhelm, by the FDA in 2021, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services decided not to cover the treatment and others in its class for all but those enrolled in trials.

In a statement, Joanne Pike, Alzheimer's Association president and chief executive officer, said, "In an unprecedented decision, CMS issued a National Coverage Determination (NCD) on April 7, 2022, declaring that Laqembi and other treatments in the same class were not 'reasonable and necessary' before reviewing the evidence for these future treatments."

The Alzheimer's Association has submitted a formal request asking CMS to remove the requirement that Medicare patients be enrolled in a research study before they can receive coverage of FDA-approved Alzheimer's treatments.

Lovegreen said anyone thinking about using the treatment should consult with their doctor and family members.

Approximately 120,000 Missourians have Alzheimer's, according to Lovegreen, and that's expected to increase to 130,000 in the next couple of years. Six million people have Alzheimer's disease nationally.

She encourages people to see a doctor as soon as they start noticing memory and thinking changes since the drugs on the market are targeted at those with early stage Alzheimer's.