A drug that has been used for two decades in Germany to ease the symptoms of moderate to advanced Alzheimers disease will soon be available in the U.S. Unlike the four Alzheimers drugs previously approved by the FDAAricept, Exelon, Reminyl and Cognex, which are only effective when taken at the early stage of the diseasethe German drug has been found to help at least some later-stage Alzheimers patients maintain certain functions for months longer than they would have without it.
Last year, Merz Pharmaceuticals, the maker of the drug, called memantine, won approval to distribute it throughout Europe, and the FDA has now cleared it for U.S. distribution by the end of this year. Scientists who reviewed the drug for the FDA cautioned that, while it slowed deterioration for some patients, memantine is not a wonder drug. It does not reverse the disease process, but rather slows it down by reducing the amount of a brain chemical called glutamate, which can damage or kill brain cells. All four previously approved Alzheimers drugs target a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, making more of the chemical available for the use of existing brain cells. The older drugs do not, however, slow down the progressive loss of brain cells, as memantine is thought to do.
While cautioning that memantine is not the cure that scientists have been working hard to discover, Eugene Michaels, president of Alzheimers Disease Research, says it could still benefit a significant number of Americas 4 million Alzheimers victims.
Up until now, there has been very little that could be done for the middle- to late-stage patient, Michaels said. Its a tough time for family members watching their loved one steadily declining and not being able to help. If these patients could be stabilized for even a few months, it would give them and their families more precious time to interact.
Forest Laboratories has gained approval from the FDA to distribute the drug in the U.S. For more information about Alzheimers disease or to find out how you can help, write to Alzheimers Disease Research, a program of the American Health Assistance Foundation, at 22512 Gateway Center Drive, Clarksburg, MD 20871, call them at 1-800-437-2423 or visit www.ahaf.org.