Independent study shoots holes in most popular Alzheimer's drug

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Aricept, the most commonly prescribed drug to treat Alzheimer's disease, does not delay disability or the need for nursing-home care, British researchers say in today's issue of the medical journal The Lancet.

The drug, used for treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer's symptoms, has "disappointingly little overall benefit" and is not cost effective, the researchers say. They studied 565 patients who took either Aricept or a placebo and were followed for up to three years, according to today's New York Times.

The drug's maker and U.S. marketer, the Eisai Company and Pfizer, said the study was too small to be considered reliable. They also said results were inconsistent with previous research. The British researchers said their work, which was sponsored by Britain's National Health Service, is the only large study performed so far independent of drug makers.

Study subjects taking Aricept initially showed slightly higher scores in mental tests, British researchers found, but after three years, their disability and nursing-home placement rates were the same as a group of patients taking a placebo.

The thought that patients would "crash" after quitting Aricept is a marketing claim the study refutes, said Dr. Lon S. Schneider, director of the Alzheimer's Research Center of California at the University of Southern California, who wrote an accompanying editorial in The Lancet.