FDA Approves Alzheimer's Drug
The advent of memantine has generated excitement among physicians and patients, but Porsteinsson and other physicians warned that it is not a magic bullet.
His research has been presented at professional meetings but has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal. He said the study evaluated the benefits of adding memantine to existing treatments for patients with moderate and severe Alzheimer's -- people who need assistance with daily living.
Patients taking memantine and the older medicine still declined in daily functioning -- such as in the ability to dress and bathe on their own -- but those in the group taking only the older medicine had even steeper declines.
Another scale used to measure behavior problems in Alzheimer's patients showed that patients who got memantine were stable at the end of the six-month trial, whereas there was a decline in the other group of patients.
As with an earlier study that had evaluated memantine against dummy pills, the drug appeared to be well tolerated.
"There are very few side effects with memantine," said Steven Ferris of the Alzheimer's Disease Center at New York University's Silberstein Institute, who helped conduct the other study that the FDA used as a basis for approving the drug.
Ferris said memantine focuses on a brain receptor system called NMDA, which regulates the entry of calcium into brain cells. The entry of calcium is involved in cell death in several neurodegenerative conditions -- and blocking its action may explain memantine's benefits, Ferris said. The previous class of medicines, including drugs such as Aricept, work on a different receptor system in the brain.
While cautioning that memantine is not a cure, Ferris said, "lots of small steps add up to a big benefit to patients."
© 2003 The Washington Post Company