Dec 21, 2021 - Health

Aduhelm gets a discount, but still lacks proof it works

Illustration of a vial with price tags on it showing the cents symbol.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The slow rollout and widespread public criticism of Aduhelm forced Biogen to put the Alzheimer's drug on the discount rack, cutting Aduhelm's list price in half.

Yes, but: Aduhelm still retails at more than $28,000, before discounts, and there is no new evidence showing the drug slows the decline of memory and brain function.

Driving the news: Aduhelm's price cut comes less than a week after the European Medicines Agency — the FDA of the European Union — rejected the drug on the grounds that there is no definitive proof it works.

  • "Although Aduhelm reduces amyloid beta in the brain, the link between this effect and clinical improvement had not been established," the EMA said. "Results from the main studies were conflicting and did not show overall that Aduhelm was effective at treating adults with early-stage Alzheimer's disease."
  • The price cut also comes a month after the U.S. government said it would raise Medicare premiums for seniors next year due in part to Aduhelm's high costs, and now some patient advocates are asking Medicare to lower those premiums in light of the price cut.
  • Biogen said in a news release the "reduced price is part of the company's ongoing commitment to further inform treatment choice."

Between the lines: Aduhelm's $28,200 price tag is still roughly 10 times higher than what some experts believe is fair, based on the clinical evidence to date.

  • That clinical evidence continues to point toward unclear benefits and potential harm to the brain, and the confirmatory trial won't produce new data until 2026 at the earliest, Biogen said last week.
  • The medical community also is still pushing for clinical trial results to be published in a journal.

The bottom line: "Unfortunately a year-end Christmas sale does not diminish the risk of brain swelling/microbleeds or enhance the non-existent clinical efficacy," tweeted Madhav Thambisetty, a neurologist at the National Institutes of Health who served on the FDA's expert panel that recommended against Aduhelm's approval.

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