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A new Alzheimer's treatment clinic is coming to Sarasota

While there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, there are some drugs available that can slow progression in early stages.
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While there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, there are some drugs available that can slow progression in early stages.

The clinic will provide two medications that can slow the progression of the disease in early stages: Leqembi and Kisunla. The Roskamp Institute plans to open the facility in September.

A Sarasota nonprofit is opening a clinic to provide treatments that can slow Alzheimer's disease in early stage patients, including a drug that just received FDA approval this month.

The Roskamp Institute, which researches brain diseases including Alzheimer’s, plans to open the clinic in September.

It will offer a treatment that has been available since last year called Leqembi, made by Eisai and Biogen, and known chemically as lecanemab. And after federal health officials approved the drug Kisunla, or donanemab, from Eli Lilly on July 2, Roskamp officials confirmed the institute will offer this treatment as well.

Both drugs are antibody infusions that target a protein known as amyloid, which can clump together to form plaques in the brain and is considered a major contributor to Alzheimer’s disease.

Only people in early stages of dementia are allowed to take them. Patients must undergo tests to verify their eligibility before receiving a prescription.

Research shows the treatments can slow declines in memory and cognitive function by about six to seven months.

“You know it's a small start but that can mean a lot for a person with early stages of Alzheimer's disease and can mean a lot to their family members,” said Fiona Crawford, president and CEO of the Roskamp Institute.

Still, the treatment regimen is intensive and comes with risks. Patients will have to visit the clinic for regular IV infusions – every two weeks for Leqembi and once a month for Kisunla. They will also need to get brain scans to detect potentially dangerous side effects.

“There are some fairly significant adverse events associated with this treatment, most specifically brain swelling and brain bleeds,” Crawford noted.

A team of specialists at the clinic, including neurologists and radiologists, will closely monitor patients' progress, said Crawford. 

The drugs come with steep price tags – $26,500 a year for Leqembi and $32,000 for Kisunla. Medicare will cover most of that cost, but the treatments could still be out of reach for some.

One potential advantage Eli Lilly is touting about Kisunla is that patients may be able to stop taking the drug if it works well. Leqembi patients are supposed to continue treatment even after it clears amyloid from the brain. It’s unclear whether Kisunla patients will eventually have to resume treatment.

The modest benefits of these drugs highlight the need to develop better Alzheimer's treatments that can help more of the nearly 7 million Americans diagnosed with the disease, Crawford said.

The infusion clinic at the Roskamp Institute is part of a broader expansion for the organization.

The institute plans to build a new space in Sarasota for its research labs and clinical facilities, and will remodel its existing property to accommodate community efforts like Alzheimer’s education and caregiver support groups.

Fundraising for the roughly $9 million expansion is still underway, said Crawford. The infusion clinic will initially open in the existing building and eventually move over to the new one once construction is complete.

Copyright 2024 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters, WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.