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New Alzheimer's Drug Approved

But it's no miracle cure

FRIDAY, Oct. 17, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new drug for people with late-stage Alzheimer's disease.

Friday's decision to approve NAMENDA (memantine) follows the recommendation of the agency's expert panel, which concluded that although the drug doesn't prevent the disease, it appears to slow the brain deterioration that robs victims of memory and other cognitive functions. Still, in recommending the drug late last month, the advisors worried that the medication could give false hope to patients' families.

This is the first drug to be approved for the most serious, late-stage symptoms of Alzheimer's. Known as an N-methyl-D-asparate antagonist, it appears to block the action of the chemical glutamate, which has been shown to damage nerve cells.

The drug was tested in a series of clinical trials in the United States and Latvia involving 800 patients. Those on memantine appeared to be better able to eat, dress, bathe, travel, shop and perform household chores than those on a non-medicinal placebo.

The most frequently reported side effects included dizziness, headache and constipation.

The drug's American marketer, Forest Laboratories, says the medication should be available in January.

Here is the FDA Talk Paper about the drug. For more about Alzheimer's, visit the National Library of Medicine.

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