© 2021 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Wash U Neurologist Explains Controversy Behind New Alzheimer's Drug: Aduhelm

071521_NPR_Ariel Davis_Alzheimers.jpg
Ariel Davis
/
NPR
Aduhelm is shown to be effective at reducing the sticky amyloid plaques that tend to build up in the brains of people with the disease, but the drug risks some potentially dangerous side effects, such as swelling and bleeding in the brain.
Wash U Neurologist Explains Controversy Behind New Alzheimer's Drug: Aduhelm

The recent FDA approval of a new Alzheimer’s drug has some researchers concerned — aside from its $56,000-a-year price tag. It’s the first Alzheimer’s drug to be approved since 2003.

It’s called aducanumab and is marketed under the trade name Aduhelm. It’s had some breakthrough benefits: It’s shown to be effective at reducing the sticky plaques that tend to build up in the brains of people with the disease.

“It's the first one that is specific to the disease, that targets the disease pathology,” said Dr. Joy Snider, a neurologist, on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air. She is the principal investigator for the Washington University study on aducanumab.

071521_EH_DrJoySnider.jpg
Evie Hemphill
Dr. Joy Snider has researched Alzheimer's disease for 25 years.

She explained that in phase two of the study, there was a hint that people's memory and thinking skills did not get worse as rapidly as the people who weren't on the drug. Patients with mild Alzheimer’s are seen as the ideal candidates for the treatment.

“What you see in the most promising data that was shown — and we don't know if this is what it's going to look like after many more people are tested — it slowed the worsening over a year by about a third, which is substantial. I mean, that's more than anything else we have,” Snider added.

But in addition to its high price tag, the drug risks some potentially dangerous side effects, such as swelling and bleeding in the brain. And the biotech company that owns the drug, Biogen, never actually finished the study, Snider said. That led many researchers, including Snider, to conclude that there isn’t enough data to prove that the drug works.

Snider joined guest host Jonathan Ahl to discuss how the drug made its way to the FDA and why experts are still concerned.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Paola Rodriguez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

Stay Connected
Lara is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.