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What the Alzheimer's drug approval in the U.S. could mean for Canada

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The first drug to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s has been approved for use in the U.S., and Canada could follow soon.

Lecanemab, also known by the brand name Leqembi, is the first available treatment for Alzheimer’s in North America.

Donald Weaver, director and senior scientist at the Krembil Research Institute at the University Health Network, told CTV’s Your Morning on Friday this disease-modifying-drug is not a cure but “a step in the right direction.”

Weaver explained Leqembi binds and prevents amyloid protein from clumping up and accumulating in the brain.

“There’s lots of people who think that amyloid is the key to what causes Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.

Weaver added when studying the drug, it showed memory improvement by 27 per cent which he compared to expanding cognitive abilities and functions by six months.

“You may be able to stay at home six months longer. You may be able to recognize and interact with your family at a more meaningful level,” he said, “It’s a huge amount of time.”

In 2020, 597,300 people were reported to be living with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia in Canada, and over 950,000 were projected to be diagnosed with the disease by 2030, according to Alzheimer Society Canada.

The newly approved drug only works on certain individuals.

Weaver said it has to be taken either in “very early stages” of Alzheimer’s disease or before mild cognitive impairment, meaning people with more advanced forms of Alzheimer’s may not benefit from it.

An 18-month study released in November, 2022, found the drug may carry a risk of serious side effects for some patients, with nearly 13 per cent of 1,795 people who took part in the trial experienced side effects such as brain swelling or bleeding.

Although the U.S. FDA’s recent approval doesn’t impact Canadians at the moment, Weaver said their experience will help other countries make a decision. Lecanemab was submitted for approval by Health Canada in May. 

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