What to Consider When Prescribing Lecanemab

Clinicians interested in treating patients with symptoms of mild cognitive impairment or mild dementia should carefully analyze the potential benefits and harms of monoclonal amyloid beta therapy, including likelihood of side effects and overall burden on the patient, according to researchers at the 2024 annual meeting of the American Geriatrics Society

Lecanemab (Leqembi) may help some patients by lowering the level of beta-amyloid protein in the brain. Results from a phase 3 trial presented at the conference on May 9 showed participants with Alzheimer’s disease showed a 27% slower progression of the disease compared with placebo.

But clinicians must weigh that advantage against risks and contraindications, according to Esther Oh, MD, PhD, an associate professor in the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, who spoke during a plenary session. Lecanemab gained accelerated approval by the US Food and Drug Administration in January 2023 and full approval in July 2023.

The results from CLARITY, an 18-month, multicenter, double-blind trial involving 1795 participants aged 50-90 years, showed that the variation between treatment and placebo did not meet the criteria for a minimum clinically important difference for mild cognitive impairment or mild Alzheimer’s disease.

Even more concerning to Oh was the rate of amyloid-related abnormalities on brain imaging, which can cause brain edema and hemorrhage (12.6% and 17.3%, respectively). Almost 85% of cases were asymptomatic. 

The risk for abnormalities indicates that thrombolytics are contraindicated for patients taking the drug, according to Oh. 

“Appropriate use recommendations exclude vitamin K antagonists such as warfarin, direct oral anticoagulants and heparin, although aspirin and other antiplatelet agents are allowed,” Oh said during the presentation. 

Blood biomarkers, PET imaging, and levels of amyloid-beta proteins in cerebrospinal fluid are used to determine eligibility for lecanemab. However, tau biomarkers may indicate signs of cognitive impairment decades prior to symptoms. Some evidence indicates that the drug may be more effective in individuals with low tau levels that are evident in earlier stages of disease. Tau can also be determined from cerebrospinal fluid, however, “we do not factor in tau protein as a biomarker for treatment eligibility, but this may become an important biomarker in the future,” Oh said.

Lecanemab is cost-prohibitive for many patients, with an annual price tag of $26,000. Treatment also requires monthly infusions, a PET, intravenous administration, lab work, multiple MRIs, and potentially an APOE4 serum test

Medicare covers the majority of services, but patients are responsible for deductibles and copays, an estimated $7000 annually, according to Shari Ling, MD, deputy chief medical officer with the US Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, who also spoke during the session. Supplemental or other insurance such as Medicaid are also not included in this estimate.

The Medicare population is growing more complex over time, Ling said. In 2021, 54% of beneficiaries had five or more comorbidities, which can affect eligibility for lecanemab. 

“Across the healthcare system, we are learning what is necessary for coordination of delivery, for evaluation of people who receive these treatments, and for the care that is not anticipated,” Ling noted.

Neither speaker reported any financial conflicts of interest.

Liz Seegert is a freelance journalist. 

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