What Cancer Drugs Might Mean for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Patients

Patients with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease may have a new source of hope: cancer drugs. A study in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease reported promising results from patients with advanced Parkinson’s who took a therapy designed for leukemia. And the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation is funding two studies on how specific types of cancer drugs might help patients with Alzheimer’s. Meanwhile, clinical trials continue to test potential new treatments designed specifically for these neurodegenerative diseases.

But as patients wait to see whether and to what extent new options work for them, one thing seems certain: accessing these treatments won’t be easy.

The high failures rate for drug candidates to treat neurodegenerative diseases underscores the expense and exhaustion of chasing elusive treatments for these conditions. Scientific Americanrecently reported that “Alzheimer’s disease drug candidates [have] one of the highest failures rates of any disease area – 99.6%.” More than 190 Alzheimer’s drugs have failed in clinical trials.

Successful treatments aren’t easy to come by, and chances are that their price will reflect the battle to create them – making cancer therapies an apt point of comparison. In all likelihood, breakthrough neurodegenerative treatments will present the same access challenges as their oncology counterparts: prior authorization processes, fail first requirements and specialty tier placement that carries high cost-sharing requirements for patients.

A newly approved therapy to treat Parkinson’s-related psychosis highlights these challenges. Pimavanserin was approved by the FDA in April, granted “groundbreaking therapy” status. It is the first drug approved to treat the hallucinations and delusions associated with psychosis in Parkinson’s disease patients.

In anticipation of expected access challenges, the manufacturer introduced a program to help patients and caregivers with financial assistance or access hurdles such as prior authorizations. As expected, health plans have already begun to put those barriers in place. The drug became available to patients and physicians in June; several health plans have already placed it on a specialty tier and established prior authorization and authorization renewal requirements.

Whether cancer drugs work for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients remains to be seen. But one area of overlap seems certain. As effective treatments for neurodegenerative diseases do break through, patients will have to tackle some of the same access battles as the cancer patients who’ve gone before them.

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