Negative Press for Alzheimer's Drug

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation

Reporting the news is a business.  This is why stories with market appeal, even if they have little news value, or may even be misleading, sometimes get broad coverage.  I am sure most editors sincerely want to present the most important stories and filter out the trivial items, but there is always a tendency to promote a compelling headline.

Over the last two days, you may have seen headlines that Namenda, one of the approved Alzheimer's drugs on the US market, does not work for patients with mild AD.  These headlines are based on an article published in this week's online issue of the Archives of Neurology.  In this study, researchers at the University of Southern California, performed no new research on the drug, but reviewed data from three other published studies, and concluded that Namenda is not beneficial for patients with mild AD.

I am not sure why this has been so broadly reported in the press, and I would like to emphasize two points:

1) Namenda is not approved for use in mild stage patients, only for moderate and severe stage patients.  This study reached exactly the same conclusions as the FDA reached when they approved the claims for the drug.  No news there.

2) Namenda has been shown to benefit early stage patients when combined with other approved Alzheimer's medications such as Aricept and Exelon.  To craft an interesting headline based on only half the story is fairly disingenuous.

To be fair to the press,  there may be value in reporting that many physicians prescribe Namenda for early stage Alzheimer's and, if prescribed alone (without one of the other drugs shown to boost efficacy), then the effects are probably minimal for most patients.  In that case, a legitimate framing for the story would convey that the drug is not being used properly, as opposed to conveying that the drug is not effective.

I have no ties to the pharmaceutical industry and I don't wish to sell false hope to the public about drug efficacy against Alzheimer's disease.  However, some people respond better than others to existing treatments, and every one deserves the opportunity to find out how treatment will affect them.  It is a shame to discourage physicians and patients from seeking potentially beneficial therapy just so you can sell more press with an eye-grabbing headline.


  1. Namenda isn't all it's cracked up to be.
    Did anyone know that when Namenda propositioned the British government for inclusion on the national drug formulary they were turned down?
    They could not prove their glutamate science. Hmmm.
    Since Namenda is roughly 1/3 the price of Aricept (even considering generics), you would think that the British government would try to save a few bucks and add it.

  2. There is strong evidence that poly-therapy (Namenda plus a cholinesterase inhibitor) yields clear clinical benefits in all stages of Alzheimer's disease. It is not effective by itself in treating early stage AD, and it is not approved for such an indication. It was approved for pan-European use by the EU Commission in 2002, it is available in the USA, Canada, South Africa, Australia, and many parts of Asia with approval expected in Japan later this year. Clearly there are worthy clinical benefits within the approved claims.