Hope remains for Alzheimer's sufferers

The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE), who last week rejected appeals to allow patients with mild Alzheimer's to receive the life-changing medication donepezil (Aricept), will hopefully re-appraise their decision in three-years time, according to neurologist Professor Robert Kerwin in an article published in the November issue of the medical journal Future Neurology.

Kerwin evaluated recent research published in the Lancet that may not have been taken into account by the NICE committee. In this study, nursing home patients with severe Alzheimer's disease were administered with donepezil, or a placebo drug, and were observed for 6-months. Those patients receiving donepezil treatment showed significantly improved cognitive function, compared with those patients not receiving the drug, despite recommendations by NICE not to prescribe donepezil to this patient group.

Kerwin also evaluates recent data suggesting that the drugs are effective in patients with milder forms of Alzheimer's disease. The recent 2005 NICE revised guidelines for cholinesterase inhibitors, the class of drug that donepezil and other Alzheimer drugs rivastigmine(Exelon/Prometax) and galantamine (Reminyl) belong to, state that these drugs can only be administered to patients with moderate Alzheimer's, for whom NICE believe the evidence is strongest. At the same time NICE withdrew its recommendations for the use of these drugs for patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's. Memantime (Exiba), belonging to another class of drugs, is not recommended to Alzheimer's sufferers, but is restricted to ongoing clinical trials and may be possible treatment in the future.

"NICE's decisions are based upon the economic health calculations that they do, which are balanced against clinical benefit. Even though the drugs do work in the long-term, patients do progress to requirements of alternative care that do not necessarily lead to savings within the NHS." Commented K

Contact: Jenny Beard
Future Science Group

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