Alzheimer’s drug is of little use in real life, study finds

    Drugs for Alzheimer’s disease are a waste of money and
    have little benefit on patients’ lives, according to a study
    published by The Lancet, writes Haroon
    Ashraf.

    “Doctors and healthcare-funders need to question whether it
    would be better to invest in more doctors and nurses and better
    social support rather than … prescribing these expensive
    drugs,” said lead researcher Roger Gray, director of
    Birmingham University’s clinical trials unit.

    Eisai and Pfizer UK, manufacturers of donepezil also known as
    Aricept, said evidence showed the drugs helped patients with
    dementia.

    Gray said it was accepted that the drugs, approved for the NHS by
    the National Institute of Clinical Excellence in 2001, helped
    patients do a little better in memory tests. But he wanted to know
    if “patients got benefits that really mattered … in
    particular whether donepezil delayed going into institutional
    care”.

    The Alzheimer’s Society, which has received some funding from
    the drug industry, said they were disappointed with the
    study’s findings.

    The Society’s director of research Professor Clive Ballard
    said, “We would be concerned if the findings were to further
    restrict access to drug treatments that we know can delay the
    symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.”

    In a commentary with the study, Lon Schneider from the University
    of Southern California, USA, said, “Claims that donepezil
    stabilises cognitive decline, or delays nursing-home placement by
    2–5 years now can be seen as implausible in the light of [the
    study].”

    NICE said it would look at the study in its review of
    Alzheimer’s drugs, which will be published in May 2005.
    Donepezil costs £1000 per patient per year and is taken by
    39,000 people in the UK.

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