The politics of Alzheimer’s disease

The politics of Alzheimer’s disease


The politics of Alzheimer’s disease


Why would anyone be angry about the FDA approving the first new Alzheimer’s drug in 20 years?


First, a word about Alzheimer’s. It’s an awful disease. It causes about two thirds of all cases of dementia; A slowly worsening decline in the ability to think clearly and remember things. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 6 million Americans are afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease.


Alzheimer’s disease causes the brain to atrophy, waste away. On a microscopic level, toxic tau proteins cause amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles accumulate in and around the cells of the brain (neurons).


A pharmaceutical company called Biogen developed a drug called aducanumab (Aduhelm) to fight the disease. They were granted FDA clearance in June 2021; a stamp of approval that indicates that the drug is safe and effective. 


Sounds like a reason to celebrate. A new weapon for doctors to use in the fight against a terrible scourge.


But, as of Mid June of 2021, three members of a prestigious FDA panel have resigned in protest. One of those members, Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said the agency’s decision on Biogen “was probably the worst drug approval decision in recent U.S. history.”


What gives?


Maybe it’s just the latest example of the politicization of medicine and science.


On several occasions in 2021, Joe Biden claimed, “You know, if we don’t do something about Alzheimer’s in America, every single, solitary hospital bed that exists in America … every single one will be occupied in the next 15 years with an Alzheimer’s patient.” 


Fact checkers have debunked these outlandish claims. 


But maybe the damage was done and the political pressure on the FDA panel caused them to toss the scientific evidence into the political winds. The share price of Biogen surged after the drug approval, but the faith in government agencies and scientific experts plummeted in the wake of this latest controversy. Not surprisingly, the FDA has not responded to a request for comment.