By Shane Reeves, PharmD, TwelveStone Health Partners CEO
Alzheimer’s Disease continues to have a debilitating impact upon our nation. In fact, it’s estimated that over 6 million Americans today are living with Alzheimer's at a cost of $345 billion this year on this disease and other forms of dementia. With an aging population, the Alzheimer’s Association predicts that an estimated 13 million people by 2050 will face this condition, generating nearly $1 trillion for cost of care.
If you know someone who’s dealt with Alzheimer’s, it’s natural to feel the weight of these alarming statistics. I know I certainly do, as the disease has an impact on my life personally, professionally, and politically.
One of my first roles as a practicing pharmacist involved working directly with assisted living and skilled nursing facilities, enabling me to see the ins and outs of memory care units firsthand as they developed to act as the frontlines of Alzheimer’s care. This experience led to me being asked to take a more active role in supporting our local Alzheimer’s Association, where I was privileged to lead our area Memory Walk, a fundraising event designed to support Alzheimer’s care and research.
In the midst of all this, however, Alzheimer’s hit even closer to home. My wife Amanda lost her grandfather to Alzheimer’s disease and relayed to me how painful of a time it was witnessing the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s on someone you love—an experience that will remain with our family always. But today, I can say with confidence there has been a great deal of hopeful progress being made to combat this disease, both medically and legislatively.
Positive Developments from the World of Medicine
There have been a number of challenges in the past several years associated with Alzheimer’s treatment, from a prolonged desert period with few medications in the pipeline to the public’s distrust of big pharma as a result of the pandemic. Even the new Biogen drug Aduhelm has faced recent controversy thanks to its rapid FDA approval, questions raised around Medicare coverage, and the drug’s annual list price.
Yet for the first time in decades, new medications are demonstrating the ability to slow or stop Alzheimer’s progression if the disease is caught early. The FDA granted accelerated approval for two disease-modifying immunotherapy drugs Lecanemab and Aducanumab. In January 2023 the FDA approved Lacanameb via its Accelerated Approval program. Lacanameb targets the fundamental pathophysiology of Alzheimer’s. In initial trials, Lacanameb reduced markers of amyloid, abnormal fibrous, extracellular, proteinaceous deposits found in organs and tissues, and moderately reduced decline in cognitive and physical functions, though longer trials are needed to determine full efficacy and safety.
The Phase 3 study of another new drug, Eli Lilly’s new drug Dohanemab, has shown promise in addressing functional decline in early symptomatic Alzheimer's disease. The study revealed a significant slowing of cognitive and functional decline in participants' day-to-day activities like managing finances, driving, hobbies, and discussing current events. The maker plans to expedite global regulatory submissions, including to the FDA, and receive approvals as swiftly as possible.
Landmark Political Advancements in Tennessee
As a state senator, I’ve also been honored to help push through two recent pieces of Tennessee legislation that help families impacted by Alzheimer’s. The Silver Alert Law, which took effect in July 2021, has helped find missing individuals who’ve wandered away due to Alzheimer’s or dementia, physical impairment, or disability. Thanks to uniform state protocols established by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Silver Alert Law has already saved lives and reunited loved ones.
At the same time, the Colonel Thomas G. Bowden Memorial Act was passed in 2022, creating a pilot program to give home and community-based respite care to Tennessee residents living with Alzheimer’s or dementia for the next three years. This bill also provides critical support financially, emotionally, and physically to the patient’s caregivers and family members, who give countless hours of their time serving their loved ones.
Hope on the Horizon
I believe we can all be encouraged by the progress being made to treat those suffering from Alzheimer’s, and those who care for them, thanks to new state legislation and a growing pipeline of medication for a terrible disease that didn’t have viable treatment options prior. We are honored that many of these new medications will be the type we can easily deliver to Alzheimer’s patients throughout our infusion centers at TwelveStone Health Partners.
There is certainly more work to be done to cure Alzheimer’s. But for now, we can have hope and optimism for a better tomorrow for everyone impacted by Alzheimer’s.