Are Alzheimer's Drugs Better than Previously Thought?

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation

A very big story about Alzheimer's treatment is unfolding in Europe. This story is big from a news coverage point of view and also from the perspective of real world impact. I am referring to the story about the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) in the U.K. that has reviewed ongoing science and reversed their earlier stance on Alzheimer's drug efficacy.

In 2006 and 2007, NICE recommended against National Health Services paying for cholinesterase inhibitors (the primary class of Alzheimer's drugs) for patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. They based this recommendation on a financial analysis suggesting that the economic benefits of treating AD with those drugs (Aricept, Exelon, and Razadyne) in its mild and moderate stages did not outweigh the costs of the treatment.

Naturally, that recommendation sparked lots of debate, including an argument that most experts considered very legitimate. The argument was that "average treatment effect" is merely a composite derived from some patients who responded well to treatment and others who did not. Since it was clear that treatment has meaningful benefits for some patients, and no one can predict which patients will respond, then everyone deserves the chance to find out.

New Position
Now, based on an ongoing review of emerging data from new studies, NICE is planning to revise that recommendation. This is great news for the patients afflicted with AD who have not yet progressed to the severe dementia stage. It is also important for the effect this move will have on the global conversation and the public perception of treatment efficacy.

Optimal Treatment
The one point I think needs to be added to this story is that, the drug class in question is only one part of the robust treatment approach we know to be most effective in delaying the progression of Alzheimer's disease. Optimal treatment includes poly-therapy (cholinesterase inhibitor plus Namenda), a balanced diet, physical exercise, and tight control of other conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.
A better understanding and more awareness of Alzheimer's related issues can impact personal health decisions and generate significant impact across a population of aging individuals. Please use the share buttons below to spread this educational message as widely as possible.