Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Treats First Patient with FDA-Approved Alzheimer’s Disease Drug

March 14, 2024

Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Treats First Patient with FDA-Approved Alzheimer’s Disease Drug.Today, Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist became the first health system in the region to treat a patient with lecanemab, a new medication for Alzheimer’s disease. This is the first Alzheimer’s drug approved by the FDA in more than 20 years.

Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that affects memory, thinking and behavior. It is a progressive disease, with symptoms gradually worsening over several years. Lecanemab slows the progression of the disease by removing amyloid, a protein in the brain.

“Researchers do not fully understand the cause of Alzheimer’s disease, but a leading hypothesis is that amyloid plays a significant role in some of the memory loss,” said Dr. Jo Cleveland, director of the Memory Assessment and Support Clinic at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist’s Sticht Center for Healthy Aging and Alzheimer’s Prevention. The Sticht Center is one of the world’s first geriatrics-focused health care centers.

“Lecanemab is a game changer for Alzheimer’s disease, but it is useful only very early in the disease process,” continued Cleveland, who is also an associate professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. “When AZT became available for treatment of HIV in the 1980s, it was the first generation of a treatment that would lead to the development of other medications for HIV. I view this new medication similarly. This is the beginning of better ways to treat Alzheimer’s disease.”

Patients must meet certain requirements before qualifying for the medication. First, patients are eligible only if they have mild cognitive impairment or mild dementia due to Alzheimer’s. Patients with more advanced dementia, such as those having difficulty recognizing family members or recalling current events do not benefit from lecanemab.
Patti Deaton, who lives in the Charlotte area, received the lecanemab infusion at the Sticht Center at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

There are side effects with the medication that require careful monitoring by the medical team, said Dr. Jeff Williamson, director of Wake Forest University School of Medicine's Center for Healthcare Innovation and co-director of the Sticht Center. “Currently the treatments require one-half day, twice a month, for intravenous infusion. So, the potential for benefit comes with a real time commitment.”

Careful blood pressure control was the first treatment proven to reduce a person’s risk for memory decline and its most advanced form, dementia. Wake Forest University School of Medicine scientists led this discovery. “Now we can add to this treatment a newly discovered and tested medication that reduces the buildup of amyloid protein in the brain,” Williamson said. “This can be so important for helping those with Alzheimer’s disease live at home longer and more independently.”

Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist patients interested in finding out more about lecanemab should first contact their primary care provider.

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