Everyone Wants the New Alzheimer's Drug

A roundup of news about human use and research plans -- so far


Last updated: February 12, 2012
questions

Families of those with Alzheimer's -- including, judging from our mail and comments, many Caring.com members -- are clamoring for the skin cancer drug that was serendipitously found to 'wash away' Alzheimer's disease'-- in lab experiments. People are asking: Where can I get this drug? How can I get my loved one in a trial? Can I get a doctor to prescribe it for my husband-wife-mother-father-grandparent with Alzheimer's right now?

Here's what's known thus far, according to follow-up reports by The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere:

  • The drug (bexarotene) hasn't yet been tested on any humans with Alzheimer's disease. So no one knows what a safe or effective dosage might be -- or even if it works on people. The very preliminary studies were done on mice. It's typically a big jump to replicating in humans lab results on rodents.

  • Researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, where the discovery was made, say they will begin a safety study in 12 healthy patients next month. There are no current plans for a larger clinical trial of Alzheimer's patients.

  • It's theoretically possible to obtain off-label use of the drug for Alzheimer's, since it's already F.D.A.-approved for cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (a rare cancer), but doctors say they aren't inclined to do so without further study, given how little is known at this point.

  • The main side effects of the drug (when used for skin cancer) include high cholesterol, high triglycerides, fatigue, and rash "” but the long-term effects if used to treat Alzheimer's are unknown.

  • The U.K. Daily Mail reports that Targretin is now used in 26 countries and has been available for 13 years - but there are no reports of it boosting memory, as patients have not lived long enough to suffer from Alzheimer's.

  • Off-label use of the drug would cost more than $1,200 a month and not be covered by insurance, experts say.

  • The drug is marketed by the Japanese manufacturer Eisai, under the trade name Targretin. Patents start to expire this year. What might happen when a generic is available is anyone's guess at this point.

  • Scientists are also excited about exploring similar drugs that may work in a similar way. Even though the current state of things sounds frustrating to families hard-hit by Alzheimer's, this development and others (like the recent discovery of how Alzheimer's spreads) mean that the Alzheimer's community is at least experiencing a renewed sense of possibility.

Image by Flickr user rodaniel, used under a Creative Commons license.

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