2002 Promises Substance, Not Just Promise
By BENEDICT CAREY
LA TIMES HEALTH WRITER
December 31 2001
Some of the biggest breakthroughs in health care will likely involve prescription drugs. The coming year should bring fresh methods of treating severe depression, chronic pain and other disorders that affect millions of Americans, doctors say.
Alzheimer's: Among the legions of aging Americans and their parents, one drug is expected to stand out: The first medication to help patients with moderate to severe forms of Alzheimer's disease could reach U.S. patients this coming year. Memantine, which will likely get the FDA go-ahead in 2002, is the first in a new class of drugs used to slow the progression of Alzheimer's.
Up to now, patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's could take one of four drugs--Cognex, Aricept, Exelon or Reminyl--all of which boost the function of brain cells that use a nerve-signaling chemical called acetylcholine. These drugs help Alzheimer's patients speak, think and function better for longer, although they're effective for only a limited time.
But memantine, available in Germany for more than a decade, works another way. It interferes with a protein on the surface of cells, preventing a chemical called glutamate from harming brain cells. Excess glutamate has been implicated in many degenerative brain diseases.