Thursday, June 10, 2021
The CEO for Biogen, the publicly-traded biotechnology company that developed Aduhelm, issued a statement about the company's policies and plans for the new drug in conjunction with the FDA's announcement of its accelerated approval of the drug for patients with Alzheimer's Disease. He writes in part:
The approval of ADUHELM represents a crucial inflection point in our collective battle against Alzheimer’s disease. By addressing a defining pathology of the disease, this novel therapy has the potential to help fundamentally change the way patients are diagnosed and treated.
I have hoped for years that we would reach a moment like this. We all know the staggering numbers: there have been at least 100 drug development programs discontinued since 2003—the last time a new Alzheimer’s drug was approved. What it tells us is that the path for innovation is not straightforward, especially for something as complex as Alzheimer’s research. The journey during Biogen’s many years of research and development has been humbling, but we have learned from industry’s past research efforts and been determined to follow the science, always driven to address patients’ unmet needs.
ADUHELM is a first-in-class approved therapy: I believe it will be the catalyst to a new era of innovation for Alzheimer’s disease, and the first of many new treatments available to patients. More resources will be drawn into research that can help patients through the disease continuum, explore new pathways, and find potential therapy combinations.
The use of this drug involves some important questions about patient consent, precisely because the drug will most likely be used with people who have "confirmed presence of amyloid pathology and mild cognitive impairment or mild dementia stage of disease, consistent with Stage 3 and Stage 4 Alzheimer’s disease," the group of patients who took part in the pre-approval clinical trials. What is the process for obtaining such consent with cognitively-impaired patients?
Several articles have explored this topic outside of the specific drug in question:
In England, the nonprofit organization Physiopedia, offers a detailed protocol for informed consent in the context of cognitive impairment. For example, it suggests assessment of competence involves paying attention to four main abilities:
The person must have sufficient capacity to understand the information. If the study involves a considerable degree of risk, more information must be provided, particularly about possible risks and benefits, and the potential participant must be able to understand such information.
The person must be able to retain, use and weigh up such information long enough to be able to make a decision. In addition, they must also be able to understand what the decision is about, why they are being asked to make it, and what the consequences of making or not making that decision might be.
Possible benefits, risks and inconvenience linked to participating in research must be understood and weighed against the person’s own values and goals, which means that the person must understand how participating might affect him/her personally (High, 1992 and Stanley et al., 1984 in Olde Rikkert et al., 1997).
The person must have the ability to communicate his/her decision.
See also: "Informed Consent in Two Alzheimer's Disease Research Centers: Insights from Research Coordinators," by Christin M. Suver, and others, published April-June 2020, and announcing the plan to use the research to assist in development of "an electronic informed consent (eConsent) designed to boost engagement, enhance trust, and improve understanding by supporting participants' direct agency in the IC process."