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New drink could help patients fight Alzheimer's

May 10, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Alzheimer's patients are turning to a new product to help improve their memory. It's not a drug, but a different classification called medical food. And while the product has its supporters, others are expressing concerns.

As an Alzheimer's patient, Charles Haight struggles to hold on to his memories. But his daughter Anna says, he's recently received a boost in that on-going fight.

"Within about a week, I noticed he had different stories, because he'd started repeating things, the same story or a few stories over and over, but he would reach and have a new story," she said.

She says her dad's improvement started after she began mixing a powdered drink for him every morning. The drink is called Axona. It's available by prescription to Alzheimer's patients -- but it isn't a drug and instead, it's categorized as a medical food.

"It is supposed to help dementia patients to give an extra source of energy to brain cells," neurologist Dr. Ilkcan Cokgor said.

Cokgor says Axona works by supplying a glucose-like substance to the brain cells, which lose their ability to process natural glucose as a result of the disease.

During his first visit, she gave Charles a 30-point memory test to gauge dementia called the MMSE. Five months after taking Axona, she tested him again.

"And it was 13-point positive elevations in MMSE scoring. So he showed a very, very positive benefit," Cokgor said.

But some experts and advocacy groups like the National Alzheimer's Association, have concerns products like Axona, and the entire category of medical foods in general.

"They're not reviewed like medications are reviewed, prescription drugs for example," Elizabeth Edgerly from the National Alzheimer's Association said.

Shortly after Axona hit the market, the National Alzheimer's Association released a statement calling medical foods "a subject of concern" in regard to Alzheimer's.

"With medical foods they just have to be safe. They don't necessarily have to be effective in addressing Alzheimer's," Edgerly said.

The company reported positive results with Axona in double blind Phase Two trials, but has not conducted the larger, more expensive Phase Three studies required for drug approval.

It's a trend that concerns the Alzheimer's Association, but Cokgor believes giving patients like Charles access to the drink now, in addition to his normal Alzheimer's medications, will help determine its long-term value.

"As far as its safe we're comfortable offering it. and its important and good not to wait years and years for Phase Three trials to be completed, and offer it as medical food, and see what happens," Cokgor said.

It's being marketed to patients like Charles, with mild to moderate Alzheimer's. The cost is about $100 a month, a price Anna is more than willing pay for the possibility of a better quality of life for her dad.

Written and produced by Tim Didion


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