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ENC experts discuss hope, controversy of new FDA-approved Alzheimer’s drug

The debate surrounding the new medication questions its efficacy, side effects.
Updated: Jun. 8, 2021 at 7:16 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - The FDA approved a new drug that could slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease for people with early onset.

The medication, called Aduhelm, is the first to target a the cause of the disease rather than its symptoms.

“The drugs that were available really deal with symptoms and managing those symptoms,” explained Katherine Lambert, a regional leader for Alzheimer’s Association in North Carolina.

“This is the first drug that aims to change the underlying biology and course of the disease.”

The treatment attacks a major cause of Alzheimer’s: clusters of proteins called amyloids that build up in the brain.

“[They] block the signals through your neurons and your synapses so you’re losing a lot of the connections that you once had,” said Collin O’Bryant, an Alzheimer’s research student at ECU.

However, there is controversy surrounding the approval of Aduhelm considering amyloids are not the only cause of the disease.

“This is something of a debate by now in the scientific community,” said Dr. Qun Lu, a researcher who directs the Harriet and John Wooten Laboratory for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases Research at ECU.

While the drug was approved, researchers question if the treatment would work on everyone.

The FDA said it will require Biogen, the company that produced Aduhelm, to hold new clinical trials to make sure the medication is safe and effective. If it does not show clear benefits, the FDA could withdraw approval.

O’Bryant, who was inspired to research the disease himself after he watched how it affected his great grandmother, said the development is a step forward.

“I don’t want to see what happened to my family happen to other people,” he said.

“If you lose all that information, if you lose all of those stories, all those memories you could have had with them...just because they can’t tell you them...it really does suck.”

Alzheimer’s Association reports around 180,000 people in North Carolina live with Alzheimer’s, and over 358,000 are family and friends who care for them.

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