The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is far from ready to deliver the first effective Alzheimer’s drugs to the large numbers of people who need them.
Alzheimer’s Research UK and the Alzheimer’s Society estimate that 720,000 people in the UK will meet the standard of care used in clinical trials of lecanemab and donanemab.
These drugs work best when taken during the first phase of treatment Alzheimer’s diseaseor earlier, when patients have what doctors call mild cognitive impairment.
But this requires diagnostics on a scale that the NHS cannot provide.
These are powerful drugs with a small risk of causing brain swelling and bleeding in the brain.
Therefore, you need to be absolutely sure that the brain fog, memory problems, and decreased thinking skills are indeed caused by Alzheimer’s disease before starting treatment. Otherwise, you run the risk of side effects without any benefit.
But the accumulation of amyloid in the brains of patients with the disease can only be definitively detected by PET brain scans or by taking spinal fluid samples.
England, Wales and Northern Ireland have only 69 PET scanners, and Scotland has a few more. But only 10 percent of their time is spent diagnosing Alzheimer’s; most of their workload is focused on cancer.
Not enough clinics in the UK are equipped with the skilled professionals needed to perform a lumbar puncture, the procedure in which a needle is inserted into the spine to remove a sample of fluid.
Drug brings hope to bleak diagnosis
The first drug, Lecanemab, has been available to select patients in the U.S. since January and is fully approved Granted by Drug Regulatory Agency early this month.
But British regulators may not decide whether to approve the treatment until early next year. It then needs approval from cost-effectiveness regulator NICE – in the US the drug costs around £20,000 a year.
No matter where you get your podcasts, you can click to subscribe to Sky News Daily
This is frustrating for patients and their families.
These drugs bring some hope to an otherwise bleak diagnosis.
But they remain out of reach in the UK.
By the time they become available, some patients’ disease has progressed to the point where it may be too late for treatment.