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False Hope? Alzheimer’s Expert Slams New FDA-Approved Drug

By Mara Lafontaine · July 25, 2023

In brief…

  • Renowned Alzheimer's researcher, Edo Richard, cast serious doubt on the effectiveness of new Alzheimer's drugs lecanemab and donanemab.
  • While the drugs remove the amyloid protein associated with Alzheimner's from the brain, they don't actually benefit patients.
  • Richard said the drugs' cognitive impact on patients is neglibible.
  • He believes Alzheimer's research should focus on other potential causes such as inflammation and blood vessel issues.
  • Richard believes many patients would refuse these drugs if adequately informed about their minimal benefits and potential side effects.
A top neurologist has questioned the value of new Alzheimer's "wonder drugs"  M Joko Apriyo Putro, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Noted Alzheimer’s researcher and neurologist, Dr. Edo Richard, raised strong concerns over new Alzheimer’s drugs, including Donanemab and Lecanemab, the latter of which was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Richard told Al Jazeera the excitement surrounding these drugs may be unfounded and possibly harmful.

“The field as a whole is indeed selling false hope to a certain extent,” said Dr. Richard, Professor at Radboud University Medical Centre in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. “I’m bothered by that because I think people don’t benefit from false hope.”

While the drugs are successful at removing the amyloid protein from the brain - their intended function - Richard said their actual effect on patients is nearly undetectable. “They clearly removed the protein from the brain very successfully, but the patients don’t benefit from it,” he said. Richard also raised concerns over the medical protocols surrounding these drugs, which require regular clinic visits and MRI scans, potentially leading to adverse events.

More importantly, said Richard, the impact of the new drugs on patients’ cerebral functions is slight at less than 2% on a cognitive scale.

The neurologist believes Alzheimer’s research must shift from its over-reliance on the amyloid hypothesis and focus on other potential causes of the debilitating disease, such as inflammation and blood vessel problems. “We’ve known for over 25 years that the amyloid protein is often present in the brains of older persons, even those without dementia,” he said. “It’s evident there’s more to Alzheimer’s than this protein.”

Financial considerations further complicate the situation, according to Richard: “The drugs under investigation, like Donanemab, are extremely expensive - around $25,000 per patient per year, not including associated costs like repeated MRI scans and weekly infusions.”

Richard, an advisor to the European Drug Agency, said approval of these drugs in Europe remains uncertain, as he cautioned the medical community “not to sell false hope.”