- Pfizer's Aricept (donepezil) was approved in 1996 for the treatment of the symptoms of moderate-to-severe Alzheimer's disease (AD). However, it has traditionally not been used during the last stage of AD.
- In a study conducted at University College London by Dr. Robert Howard, 12 months of treatment with donepezil reduced the likelihood of ending up in a nursing home from 37% to 20% in late-stage patients.
- The implications are largely pharmacoeconomic, as the cost of a year's worth of donepezil is a lot less than a year in a nursing home.
Generally, donepezil treatment is discontinued as patients progress to the end stages of the disease, because the perception is that the benefits are very modest when compared to the side effects, which include nausea and heart arrhythmia.
However, this latest study shows that there is a benefit with respect to keeping patients out of nursing homes, and the economic implications are huge. Case in point: In the U.K., a year's worth of generic donepezil costs about $31.00, which pales in comparison to the cost of a nursing home—$46,900 to $52,600 per year.
While the goal of finding a disease-modifying or curative treatment for AD is raging on in labs across the world, there are 44 million people globally who are currently living with the disease. Caretakers rely on medications and interventions that are currently available, and donepezil continues to be an important part of the treatment armamentarium.