Ascension Via Christi part of study on new Alzheimer’s treatments, including recent FDA-approved drug

Updated: Jun. 8, 2021 at 8:25 AM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - For the first time in nearly 20 years, during Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, the FDA approved a new treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

The new type of treatment is called Aducanumab, made by the company Biogen, and Ascension Via Christi has been involved in its trials since 2015.

There are seven people in Wichita that are part of the treatment’s long-term safety study. Researchers say those patients have been involved in the study for almost a year now. Clinical trails need people like David Welch, a 66-year-old grandfather who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s nearly six years ago.

“My sister and my dad, three years after they got diagnosed, they couldn’t drive anymore. They couldn’t fill their prescriptions,” he said. “So, I’m still driving and have a job. It’s better than I could ever expect it.”

In 2016, Welch signed up for the initial trial at Ascension Via Christi, but last year, there was a pause in the study. Welch said he has no side effects and is now one of seven continuing the trial.

“Alzheimer’s and dementia is a terrible disease. I’m glad I’m part of (the trial),” Welch said.

Clinical Research Director Janie Krull says patients receive the latest treatment as an infusion every four weeks and she says it targets the disease in a way that’s never been done before, by treating the underlying cause of the disease in the brain.

Until now, other Alzheimer’s drugs only managed symptoms.

The FDA’s independent panel of neurological experts objected to the approval, although the FDA is not required to follow their advice.

Krull said they are excited the drug was approved.

“We had to stop the study for about a year, and when people stopped receiving the medication a lot of them got worse. It was not dramatically worse, but their scores on their mental exams decreased, they went down,” Krull said.

Krull said when they got their patients back on the medication their scores stabilized again.

Via Christi is also involved in another new Alzheimer’s study and is now screening applicants.

Ascension Via Christi is currently enrolling patients for the Lilly-Trailblazer 2 research study.

The study is for patients with mild memory loss, mild cognitive impairment or mild Alzheimer’s disease.

Here is what you need to know if you’re interested:

  • Between the ages of 60-85
  • Generally healthy
  • Study partner to come with you to appointments for the next 2-3 years

There will be around 1,500 patients enrolled around the world, with 20 patients enrolled in Wichita. The first patient started their transfusions last week.

“So, patients take either (the drug) or placebo as an IV infusion once a month for 17 months and all those infusions are given in our office,” Study Coordinator at Via Christi Research Lisa Aragon said.

Patients will also receive imaging as part of the study. Aragon said if you are willing to travel for the study then you can apply.

Alzheimer’s Association Central and Western Kansas Program Director Breana Tucker welcomes the FDA approval for the drug.

This is so monumental for those early stages,” she said. “I’m just so hopeful.”

The drug, Aducanumab, is not a cure for Alzheimer’s. Researchers say the drug helps fight plaque in the brain caused by the disease.

Krull calls trial participants like Welch heroes who help to further science.

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