Biogen Inc. says it has a drug to slow the progression of early-stage Alzheimer’s. But some researchers don’t think it’s the magic bullet we’ve been waiting for. (Getty Images)

Biogen Inc. says it has a drug to slow the progression of early-stage Alzheimer’s. But some researchers don’t think it’s the magic bullet we’ve been waiting for. (Getty Images)

New Alzheimer’s drug: Hope or Hype?

Company says its drug can slow the progression of the disease in its early stages.

It was news many people have been desperately hoping for — a new drug to slow the progression of early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.

The recent announcement from the company Biogen Inc. quickly spread across social media. The company’s stock price surged.

The intense interest in the announcement is underscored by the number of people affected by the disease.

Alzheimer’s ranks as the fourth leading cause of death in Snohomish County, taking the lives of 375 people last year. Some 110,000 people in Washington are living with the disease. That number is expected to jump 27 percent — to 140,000 — by 2025, according to an Alzheimer’s Association report.

But as with any announcement regarding a new medication, the question is, how much of the interest in what is being characterized as a potentially important new Alzheimer’s drug is hope versus hype?

In part, that’s because Biogen announced in March that it was discontinuing tests of the drug when initial analysis showed it wasn’t that effective.

Last month, the company reversed course, saying that a closer analysis of people using high doses of the drug showed it could slow cognitive decline among people with early-stage Alzheimer’s.

The company is seeking federal approval from the Food and Drug Administration to allow patients to be treated with the medication.

“I think it gives people hope,” said Carrie McBride, spokeswoman for the Washington state chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. “It’s been about 15 years since a drug like this has been submitted to the FDA for approval.”

The drugs now on the market have had only moderate effectiveness, showing results only in some people and only for a short time, she said.

Federal approval to allow patients to be treated with the new drug also could open the door for other, more advanced therapies, she said. “This is really good news overall in the scientific and research communities,” McBride said.

Others, though, are raising questions about just how much benefit patients would receive.

A biotech podcast by STAT, a media company affiliated with the Boston Globe that covers health, medicine and scientific advances, said that it’s unclear if the FDA will approve the company’s request or ask for more tests to measure its effectiveness.

Journalist Sharon Begley noted in the podcast that it generally takes three years for Alzheimer’s to progress from a mild to moderate disease. “This would extend that to four years,” she said.

Biogen’s drug, called Aducanumab, is aimed at helping the body clear harmful plaques from the brain.

Dr. Eric Larson, a senior investigator at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, said that Biogen’s announcement is controversial among experts studying Alzheimer’s disease.

That’s in part because it’s very unusual for a drug to go forward after a test has failed, he said. “This is a condition that everybody hopes for — a single drug, a magic bullet,” Larson said.

Alzheimer’s is a complicated disease, caused by more than one problem, Larson said.

The plaques in the brain — which the Biogen drug seeks to attack — disrupts the functioning of neurons, the brain’s messenger service.

But there are three other problems that occur in the brain also associated with the disease, he said.

The upside to the years of attention on finding treatments for Alzheimer’s is that far more money is being spent on research, he said.

“How likely is it that a single drug will do what we want it to do — which is make it go away? I’m skeptical that this single drug will turn the tide,” Larson said. “But I sure hope there’s something like that someday.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com.

Alzheimer’s information

The state chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association is at 19031 33rd Ave. W. No. 301, Lynnwood. Call 206-363-5500 or go to www.alz.org/alzwa for more information. Or contact the organization’s 24-hour helpline at 800-272-3900.

Talk to us

More in Life

The Gothard Sisters
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

The Gothard Sisters’ annual Celtic Christmas show is set for Dec. 8 in Edmonds. Plus loads of other Christmas entertainment.

Erica × darleyensis ‘White Perfection'. (Richie Steffen)
Great Plant Pick: Erica × darleyensis ‘White Perfection’

What: Erica × darleyensis ‘White Perfection’, commonly called White Perfection Darley heath… Continue reading

Screen printed dish towels available at Madrona Supply Company on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022 in Clinton, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Do some good along with your Christmas shopping

Head across the Sound to Whidbey Island for gift-buying with a do-gooder spirit

Caption: If you can get past the itchiness factor, wool garments warm you up and last a lifetime. (Jennifer Bardsley)
In praise of wool, the fiber that saved this California girl

It may itch, but you can’t beat a wool sweater for warmth. And it’ll last a lifetime.

Double-billed by Avis for a van returned after hours

When Robert Cipriani returns his Avis minivan, he expects to pay $1,770. Instead, Avis charges him twice. What happened, and how can he get his money back?

The towering Basilica of Our Lady of Fátima sits at the head of a vast esplanade. At the top of the steps, a covered open-air altar, cathedra (bishop's chair), and pulpit stand ready to conduct Mass to the thousands of pilgrims who come to celebrate the Virgin of Fátima on the 13th day of each month from May through October.
Rick Steves on Fatima, Portugal, a testament to the power of faith

Whether you’re a devout Catholic or just a curious gawker, the place is a marvel and worth a visit.

Garden gnomes and vintage trucks make fabulous yard art -- though the truck may be difficult to gift wrap.
Steve Smith’s gift ideas for your favorite gardener

They range from the down-to-earth practical (garden tools) to the purely decorative (garden art).

This advertising lamp includes figures of a team of horses pulling a beer cart with drivers, followed by a crowd of Dalmatians. Similar scenes may take place in real life on Budweiser’s promotional tours. The lamp with a moving wagon sold for $625.
Prohibition’s repeal spawned the Budweiser Clydesdale horses

The first team of draft horses delivered the first load of beer after the repeal, and an effective marketing icon was born.

Is your partner grumpy? Here are some antidotes to consider

No. 1: Wait until your grump is in a good mood to talk to them about their grumpiness.

Most Read