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FDA approves new Alzheimer’s drug giving hope to patients, families

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TUCSON (KVOA) - The FDA gives the go-ahead on the first new Alzheimer's drug in nearly 20 years.

The drug is called Aducanumab. It targets beta-amyloid plaques in the brain and removes some of those plaques.  

Dr. Allan Anderson is the director of the Banner Alzheimer's Institute. He is hopeful this will be a potential turning point in combating a disease that affects millions of Americans and their families every year.

"So, I think it's the beginning of a new era," Anderson said. "I think this allows us to look forward to further innovations in treatment that allow to us to get down to the root cause of the disease."

"This is the first medication that's approved that actually directly attacks the abnormal protein called amyloid that deposits in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease," Dr. Steven Rapcsak, a researcher at the Banner Alzheimer's Institute said.

Aducanumab is not a cure for Alzheimer's. Some doctors and researchers say there's not enough evidence from clinical trials that the new drug is effective.

Dr. Roberta Brinton, the director of the Center For Innovation in Brain Science at the University Of Arizona. She hopes the benefits outweigh the harm.

"There are many roads to Alzheimer's, there are many on-ramps to Alzheimer's but there aren't any off-ramps yet," Brinton said. "I think it's a game starter and it's very exciting the FDA was flexible in their approval process."

"It saves our minds," Barbara Leightenheimer said. Leightenheimer's mother lives with Alzheimer's.

"Where mother is, she's just kind of existing," she said. "I don't have the memories anymore. I have to tell her her stories."

Dr. Brinton is leading a study at UA on how to regenerate the brain which could potentially improve cognition in Alzheimer's patients. She is confident a major breakthrough or even a cure is on the horizon.

"Thousands of scientists and physicians that are working day and night to cure Alzheimer's disease and it's not going to be another 20 years," Brinton said.

Aducanumab is administered through an IV monthly.

Biogen, the biotechnology company that developed the drug estimated a cost of $56,000 a year.

It will be months before the drug is on the market and available for use as insurance companies still have to decide how they will cover the drug.

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