January 19, 2004
The drug Namenda (memantine), approved for the treatment of moderate to severe Alzheimer's, showed benefits for patients with later-stage disease who were already taking a medicine for the condition. Some patients suffering from the earlier stages of the mind-ravaging ailment may also benefit from the drug, researchers report. However, more study is needed for both these indications.
Namenda was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in October, 2003 for treating the more severe stages of Alzheimer's and is now becoming available in pharmacies across the country. In earlier tests conducted by Barry Reisberg, M.D., director of the Zachary and Elizabeth M. Fisher Alzheimer's Disease Education and Resources Program at New York University Medical Center and colleagues, patients with moderate to severe illness deteriorated about half as much as they otherwise would have over the six months of the study. The drug also appeared to be safe and free of side effects.
In the latest report, from the February 19, 2004 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York found that people with moderate to severe Alzheimer's who were already taking the drug Aricept (donepezil) for their condition improved when they were also given Namenda (memantine). Those patients who were given Namenda had less mental decline and were better able to carry out activities of daily living than those who received a look-alike dummy pill. The study, conducted at 37 different medical centers, involved more than 400 participants and lasted for six months.
Another recent report suggests Namenda may, by itself have benefits for those in the earlier stages of Alzheimer's disease as well, although more research is needed. In one trial of more than 400 men and women conducted in the U.S., people with early-stage Alzheimer's who got the drug performed better in certain mental and memory tests compared with those who got a dummy pill. Another trial conducted in Europe, however, found some benefits early on but not at the end of the six-month study period. More study is needed to confirm if the medicine does indeed provide true benefits for those with early Alzheimer's.
Previous research indicated that Namenda did not provide extra benefits when it was combined with other drugs -- Aricept, Exelon, and Rivastigmine -- that are approved for those with mild to moderate disease. Namenda works by a different mechanism than those drugs.
Experts caution however, that none of these medicines work for everyone. "It is important for patients and families to realize that currently available Alzheimer's drugs may provide only limited benefits at best," comments Samuel E. Gandy, M.D., Ph.D., Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board at the Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation. "More research is needed."
The search for a cure continues. For more on drug options for Alzheimer's, visit www.ALZinfo.org.
By www.ALZinfo.org. Reviewed by Samuel E. Gandy, M.D., Ph.D., Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board, Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation.