Banner Alzheimer's Institute doctor is hopeful for new drug Leqembi

Published: Tuesday, January 10, 2023 - 10:24am
Updated: Tuesday, January 10, 2023 - 10:26am

Arizona has the fastest growing rate of Alzheimer’s disease in the country. So, it was a sigh of relief for providers and those who work in the Alzheimer’s space when the FDA approved a drug that’s been shown to slow the early stages of the brain-robbing disease. 

"It's huge. After decades of trying, this seems to be the real deal," said Po Heng-Tsai, the associate medical director of clinical trials at the Banner Alzheimer's Institute. 

He’s talking about the drug, Leqembi, which has convincingly shown to slow the decline in memory and thinking. 

"So the ideal candidate for this medication will be people in the early stage of all stages of Alzheimer's disease, specifically the stage of mild cognitive impairment and mild dementia," he said.

And they have to have amyloid in the brain. That he said, "can be done either through a PET scan, or through a spinal fluid analysis." But getting that diagnosis can be costly.

"The insurance company does not cover the PET scan. And some insurance companies cover the spinal tap, which is also a little bit cheaper. And so this is an encouraging development, but it is not the end game for Alzheimer disease," he said. 

Because at the end of the day, many individuals living with Alzheimer's disease will not get an early diagnosis or can afford the testing needed to confirm amyloid. Still, the development of this drug is encouraging said James Fitzpatrick, the director of advocacy with the Desert Southwest Alzheimer’s Association. He says for families, this drug is about time. 

"A lot of times, people are like, 'oh, it just gave them six months more of cognition,' but think about somebody that's losing their cognition, six months means everything," he said.

Like the controversial Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm, Leqembi is pricey. A year’s worth of treatment will cost roughly $26,000.  And insurance coverage by Medicare won’t happen until later this year. 

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 150,000 Arizonans are living with the disease, which is just one type of dementia.

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