The first new drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease in two decades was approved by the FDA in June and it’s finally starting to reach patients, though most Iowans won’t be able to afford it — at least not yet.
Lauren Livingston, spokeswoman for the Iowa Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, says it’s encouraging that the drug is now in production. “It actually is starting to roll out in hospitals and clinics right now,” Livingston says, “as doctors are getting the equipment to be able to give the infusion treatment.”
Approval of the drug, Aduhelm, offers the promise of some relief for the 66,000 Iowans who are now living with the most common cause of dementia. “The barrier right now is the cost of the drug,” Livingston says. “It’s still astronomically high and that’s something the Alzheimer’s Association and other organizations are trying to call the drug company, Biogen, to lower that price so it is more accessible to everyone.”
Reports say a year-long course of the drug now costs $56,000 per patient. As six-million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, Aduhelm has the potential to be a multi-billion-dollar expense for Medicare.
“We are expecting in the springtime in 2022 for Medicare/Medicaid Services to decide if they will provide coverage for the drug,” Livingston says. “If they, hopefully, do provide coverage, then it will be much more widely available. People will be able to get it and price won’t be a barrier.”
While there’s the possibility the drug could slow the progression of the disease, there’s an important distinction: it’s a treatment for Alzheimer’s, not a cure. Alzheimer’s is a progressive, degenerative and fatal brain disease.
While 66,000 Iowans are now diagnosed with it, by 2025, that number is expected to grow to 74,000.