FDA-approved Alzheimer’s drug offers hope to Michigan families

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LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — For the first time in nearly two decades there’s new medicine in the fight against Alzheimer’s. However, while some say this is a huge step forward others aren’t so sure.

“Twinge of hope”

Bertha Bullen knows Alzheimer’s well.

“There were many times that I have wished that I had just a little more time with my loved one,” Bullen said. “If this would buy 6 months- that would be 6 months more of ice creams with my mother and hearing her family stories so its very exciting.”

Her mother passed away in 2007 after a 13 year battle with Alzheimer’s.

“She went from being the family historian time to losing her short term memory to not recognizing who any of her children were, to forgetting that she had children,” she said.

More than 10 of her family members have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

“As a family member you’re watching your person disappear,” Bullen said. “There is a reason they call this the long goodbye.”

She’s hopeful this new medicine will be a game changer.

“This is the first time in a long time with regard to this disease that I felt even a twinge of hope that someday we might be able to impact the disease itself,” she said.

Alzheimer’s in Michigan

According to the Alzheimer’s Association in 2020 there were 190,000 Michiganders living with Alzheimer’s. By 2025, the number is expected to increase by 15.8%.

Nationwide, more than 6 million Americans have Alzheimer’s.

How does Aducanumab work?

Amit Sachdev, MD, Medical Director for the Department of Neurology and Ophthalmology at Michigan State University says Biogen’s aducanumab, which will go by brand name Aduhelm, attempts to prevent brain injury.

“Aducanumab is a drug that removes plaques from the brain,” he said. “A plaque is a buildup that irritates the brain. removing that irritant is said to treat Alzheimer’s disease.”

He says this new medication is a testament to the research that has been done in the last years.

“This is building block, newer, better and more effective treatments will come along.” Sachdev said.

However, the new drug has shown different results that make some question its effect.

“We know that the medication unfortunately those clinical trials did not agree” Sachdev said. “One suggested the medicine worked- the other suggested it doesn’t.”

Alzheimer’s Research 20+ years

David Morgan, Director of the Alzheimer’s Alliance and Foundation Professor of Translational Neuroscience at Michigan State University has been researching testing treatments for Alzheimer’s dementia for over 30 years. He first discovered positive results in mice 20 years ago.

“20 years ago we were the first research team to actually show that in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s that has the amyloid deposits in the brain, that when we used and made antibodies against the amyloid, that this was able to reverse the memory deficits that these mice had,” Morgan said.

His research continued and in that process his friends started Neurimmune Therapeutics a company based in Zurich.

Morgan served as the first external advisor for Neurimmune. The company eventually ended up making the drug now known as ‘Aducanumab’. Neurimmune then licensed the antigen to Biogen, which took up development, marketing, and clinical responsibilities for the medicine.

He says he feels confident the medicine will have a positive impact.

“I feel reassured that something I worked on for the last 20 years has finally gotten to the point where it can improve people’s lives,” Morgan said.

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