Alzheimer’s drug approval celebrated by some in North Dakota

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Buck Haas and his wife Bev have been married 61 years, but things changed a decade ago.

“She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 10 years ago,” Haas said.

This week, the FDA approved an Alzheimer’s drug, aducanumab, to slow cognitive decline in those with early-onset Alzheimer’s, instead of just masking the symptoms, which previous treatments did.

But that didn’t mean much for Bev and many others who are too far along in the disease.

“It gives me optimism for other people who are going to be affected by this very tragic disease,” Buck said.

Today, Bev is at Country House in Dickinson, a Memory Care residence with about 30 patients who have some degree of dementia.

“I know it’s too late for me and Bev because of the stage that she’s in, but I also have to say that I could not have found a better place for Bev’s care than Country House.”

Country House Executive Director Tessa Johnson says she’s happy to see the drug’s approval.

“The family members of the people who live with dementia at this point feel hopeless. It’s such a hopeless disease, so I think that some of these things give them hope,” Johnson said.

But there are concerns over the FDA’s accelerated approval of the drug. Since clinical trials provided incomplete evidence of its effectiveness, the FDA required the drug’s maker, Biogen, to conduct a new trial to verify its clinical benefit. If that trial fails to be effective, the FDA could take the drug off the market.

Johnson says that doesn’t deter her support of it.

“It doesn’t, because it’s the same conversation we’ve had about the COVID vaccine for months now. I trust in science, I’m a nurse, I trust the process of things. If we didn’t, I don’t know where else we’d be,” Johnson said.

There are also concerns over the price tag. Biogen estimates it’ll cost $56,000 a year for monthly infusions of the drug.

However, for a disease that hasn’t had a treatment approved in 18 years and currently has no cure, some still consider it positive news.

“For the Alzheimer’s Association and for everyone who’s been impacted by Alzheimer’s disease or maybe in the future, this is historic. Truly historic. We are just thrilled,” Minnesota-North Dakota Alzheimer’s Association CEO Sue Parriot said.

Parriot says she expects the drug to be rolled out in the next few weeks at clinics or hospitals. While Buck may not benefit from this breakthrough, he hopes another could be coming.

“I’m quite sure that in perhaps the not too distant future, they might even find a cure for Alzheimer’s,” Buck said.

The Director of Pharmacy at Sanford Health in Bismarck said in a statement that when the drug becomes available, doctors will have a conversation with patients to make the best decision on a treatment plan.

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