For the first time in 20 years, the United States FDA has approved a new drug for Alzheimer’s disease, news that brought both celebration and dismay.
While patients and families suddenly glimpse hope, many researchers dismiss that hope as illusory. One FDA advisor, Prof. Caleb Alexander of Johns Hopkins, said he was “surprised and disappointed”. Prof. Scott Emerson, a biostatistician on the panel, likened the drug’s development to “firing a shotgun at a barn and then painting a target around the bullet holes”. Prof George Perry, a prominent neurobiologist, says this will “set the research community back 10 to 20 years.”
Rarely do decisions by a small committee have such an impact. With over 150 million people projected to have dementia by 2050, new treatments are vital, and demand is ravenous. The company, Biogen, prices the drug at $A72,000 annually, and has no doubt that patients and governments will be willing to pay.
In a hypothetical scenario where the 44 million current Alzheimer’s patients receive Aduhelm, that’s $3.7 trillion a year, or almost half of the world’s entire health budget. By 2050, it would be $12.6 trillion – or $400,000 per second, every second. If Biogen receives the merest fraction of that, they have the quite the windfall indeed.