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‘We’ve waited for 18 years for some kind of breakthrough’: Alzheimer’s drug approval brings hope for Iowans

Updated: Jun. 7, 2021 at 10:54 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - A long-awaited day has finally arrived, as the Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug in nearly 20 years to treat Alzheimer’s on Monday.

“We’ve waited for 18 years for some kind of breakthrough,” Deanna Pedersen of Cedar Rapids said.

Pedersen and her son, Wesley Clemens have fundraised, walked, and even advocated in Washington, D.C., as part of the fight to end Alzheimer’s, one that is deeply personal for their family.

Pedersen’s husband of more than 20 years, Bob, first saw specialists for memory issues when he was 52. Ten years later, he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, and now, at age 70, he is in the later stages of the disease.

“Up until now, we’ve not had an option of even — we’ve had no options, really, for any kind of treatment,” Pedersen said.

As opposed to previous treatments, the FDA said the drug approved Monday, aducanumab, can likely treat the actual disease and not just alleviate symptoms. Aducanumab was developed by the American biotechnology company Biogen and the Japanese company Eisai Co.

However, some independent advisers have said aducanumab has not yet proven it can actually slow the disease.

The FDA is requiring Biogen to conduct another study to confirm it works, and if it doesn’t do that, the drug may be pulled from the market.

Pedersen and Clemens said the drug’s approval is monumental, not just for those with Alzheimer’s but also for their loved ones and caregivers.

“It takes a mental toll on us too,” Clemens said.

“Yeah, it takes a mental toll on us very much so,” Pedersen echoed.

Lauren Livingston with the Greater Iowa Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association said this is the day the 6 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s, along with their loved ones and advocates, have been waiting for.

“It’s going to help so many people get more time, more quality time, with their families,” Livingston said.

This new drug is targeted for early-stage patients. For Bob, who is in the later stages of the disease, its approval is likely coming too late.

“It was good to hear it and know that it’ll help others, but it is bittersweet to know that it really isn’t going to help my family,” Pedersen said.

But his family said they are still thankful for this development and hope it will be affordable for the people it can help.

“Hopefully it’ll give other people hope and open the door for more avenues and treatments,” Clemens added.

Those treatments weren’t an option for them or Bob.

That’s why Pedersen and Clemens have worked so hard to advocate for more funding and more research, to find a cure for a disease that robs people of so much — and still be there for Bob every step of the way.

“It’s just something you just have to do,” Pedersen said. “And you just do it because you love somebody.”

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