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Health News

Alzheimer’s drug results are promising – but let’s not get carried away

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NOTICE OF MEMBERS EXTRAORINDARY LAND DEALING MEETING

Alzheimer’s drug results are promising – but let’s not get carried away

UNSW Sydney

Clinical trial results for lecanemab are a significant step rather than a ‘historic breakthrough’, say UNSW Alzheimer’s experts.

Partner companies Eisai and Biogen have recently announced promising clinical trial results for their new Alzheimer’s drug lecanemab. Over 18 months, patients treated with lecanemab experienced slower symptom progression than the placebo group. These results have been described as a ‘historic moment for dementia research’ – but what do they really mean for patients?

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that leads to dementia – a decline in memory, reasoning and other thinking skills. Disease progression can initially be very slow, with changes in the brain occurring up to 25 years before symptoms arise. However, once these cognitive issues are present, living with Alzheimer’s can be very challenging for patients and their families.

Alzheimer’s has puzzled scientists for decades

There is some contention around what alterations in the brain drive Alzheimer’s disease, with several culprits identified so far.

“What actually causes Alzheimer’s disease is not really known… There’s some debate about how and when these processes happen,” says Scientia Professor Henry Brodaty AO, Co-Director of the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA) at UNSW Sydney.

One of the prime suspects is a protein fragment called beta-amyloid, which is quite sticky and can accumulate in clumps in the brain, called ‘amyloid plaques’. These clumps of protein build up around neurons – the brain cells that power thinking.  The ‘amyloid hypothesis’ is a theory that amyloid plaques are the first step in the development of the disease.

Amyloid is directly toxic to brain cells, and also promotes the development of the other main brain pathology – neurofibrillary tangles in brain cells. The tangles are made of tau proteins that get knotted up inside neurons, blocking function and causing toxicity. Plaques also lead to the development of inflammation in the brain which is harmful to brain cells.

Limited treatments are available for Alzheimer’s

Most of the current Alzheimer’s drugs help to manage symptoms but can’t halt or reverse brain degeneration. They mainly work by maintaining levels of neurotransmitters – brain chemicals that neurons use to communicate with one another – which can be decreased in patients with Alzheimer’s.

“Research into Alzheimer’s treatments in the ’80s came up with the only current drugs on the market,” says Professor Peter Schofield AO, the CEO of Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) and professor at UNSW Medicine & Health.

“The existing drugs only target symptoms and provide a delay in disease progression. They’re not targeting the underlying disease cause.”

Treatments that target the underlying causes of a disease are referred to as disease-modifying. The drug aducanumab, which was also developed by Eisai and Biogen, is the only disease-modifying treatment that has been approved for Alzheimer’s. Aducanumab, marketed as Aduhelm, is an antibody that targets amyloid plaques and helps the immune system to clear them from the brain.

In 2021, aducanumab was approved for use in the US by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) but it isn’t approved in other countries, including Australia and Europe. The FDA approval was highly controversial as clinical trials had failed to show that the drug caused an improvement in dementia symptoms, although the drug did clear amyloid plaques. Aducanumab treatment also led to a degree of brain swelling and/or bleeding in up to 40 per cent of clinical trial participants.

Lecanemab’s clinical trial results

Lecanemab is a new drug that works similarly to aducanumab – an antibody that promotes clearing of beta-amyloid from the brain. However, lecanemab targets amyloid fibrils, which are smaller clumps of protein that eventually turn into amyloid plaques.

“Lecanemab is designed a little bit differently. It’s trying to remove the amyloid fibrils,” says Professor Schofield. “Why wait until you’ve got a pile of garbage – the plaque? Why don’t you just pick up bits of litter on the way?”

Eisai and Biogen reported that in their latest 18-month clinical trial, symptom scores for patients treated with lecanemab had worsened 27 per cent less compared to those given a placebo. This has been met with much excitement as, unlike aducanumab and other previous treatments, lecanemab has shown the first evidence of slowing down Alzheimer’s progression.

At the same time, the limitations of these results can’t be ignored.

“These results provide a glimmer of hope in a field in which numerous previous trials have failed to achieve their primary outcomes,” says Scientia Professor Perminder Sachdev, Co-Director of CHeBA and Clinical Director of the Neuropsychiatric Institute of the Prince of Wales Hospital. “Whether this result is clinically meaningful is, however, still uncertain.”

Firstly, though statistically significant, the difference in symptoms between the treatment and placebo group in the trial was 0.45 points on an 18-point scale. Most clinicians in the field suggest that a greater difference is needed to impact patients’ lives, for example 1 to 2 points.

Secondly, lecanemab targets beta-amyloid build up but there are probably other contributors to Alzheimer’s progression – for example neurofibrillary tangles. These other changes would not be fixed with this drug.

It also must be acknowledged that, like aducanumab, lecanemab causes the potentially serious side effects of brain swelling and bleeding. In this recent clinical trial, 21 per cent of the treatment group versus 9 per cent of the placebo group experienced these changes on brain MRI scan.

Finally, Alzheimer’s disease is only one of many causes of dementia, so lecanemab won’t be of benefit to those with other causes, for example vascular changes and Parkinson’s disease. In very old people with more severe dementia, there are often multiple contributing factors. The lecanemab trial did not focus on this patient group – the drug’s impact was only tested in those with early or mild dementia caused by Alzheimer’s.

Not a breakthrough, but a positive step

Despite all these caveats, these latest findings are a significant step forward for Alzheimer’s research. Lecanemab is the first-ever treatment that slows down symptom progression, even if the effect is small.

“We still have a long way to go until we have what everyone wants. A treatment for Alzheimer’s for themselves, their loved one, their parent, that is affordable and efficacious,” says Professor Schofield. “But it looks like we’ve got a first foot on the ladder.”

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Flu numbers explode, over 65s most at risk

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NOTICE OF MEMBERS EXTRAORINDARY LAND DEALING MEETING

Flu numbers explode, over 65s most at risk

 

By Tim Howard

An explosion in flu cases across the state has prompted North Coast health authorities to urge people over 65 to book in for their free flu jabs as the virus continues to surge across the state.

Director of North Coast Population and Public Health Dr Valerie Delpech said a recent surveillance report revealed there had been a 25% jump in flu diagnoses in a week.

“Flu is rapidly increasing across the state,” Dr Delpech said. “In the past week alone presentations to NSW emergency departments increased by almost 22% for people with influenza-like illness.

“We are expecting the flu season will be around for several weeks to come, so now is the time to book in for your free flu vaccine to get the vital protection you need.”

Dr Delpech said the more elderly, who were in greater need of the protection vaccination offered, were lagging behind in vaccination rates.

“At present, just half of people 65 and over (52.4 per cent) in NSW have received their flu vaccine,” she said.

The doctor said with influenza, COVID-19 and RSV all circulating in the community, health services reminded the community to avoid visiting high-risk settings including hospitals and aged care facilities if they are experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness.

“Vaccination is the best protection against infection and severe disease,” Dr Delpech said. “Everyone, but particularly those at increased risk of severe disease, is urged to get vaccinated now. By getting vaccinated you also help protect those around you.”

She said the influenza vaccine was free and readily available for those at higher risk of severe illness from influenza from GPs for any age group, as well as through pharmacies for everyone aged five years and over.

Flu North Coast

South Grafton pharmacist Michael Troy was part of a successful campaign for a law change to allow pharmacists to vaccinate against the flu. He urges people to get regular flu shots ahead of every flu season.

Those considered to be at higher risk of severe illness from influenza who are eligible for free vaccination include:

  • people aged 65 and over
  • children aged six months to under five years
  • Aboriginal people from six months of age
  • pregnant women
  • those with serious health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, immune disorders, severe asthma, kidney, heart, and lung disease.

Dr Delpech said there were some simple steps people could take to protect themselves and loved ones from respiratory viruses like COVID-19, influenza and RSV, including:

  • Stay up to date with your recommended influenza and COVID-19 vaccinations
  • Stay home if you are sick and wear a mask if you need to leave home
  • Get together outdoors or in large, well-ventilated spaces with open doors and windows
  • Avoid crowded spaces
  • Consider doing a rapid antigen test (RAT) before visiting people at higher risk of severe illness
  • Talk with your doctor now if you are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 or influenza to make a plan about what to do if you get sick, including what test to take, and discussing if you are eligible for antiviral medicines
  • Don’t visit people who are at higher risk of severe illness if you are sick or have tested positive to COVID-19 or influenza
  • Practice good hand hygiene, including hand washing.

 

For more health news, click here.

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Health Insurance Premiums Skyrocket, Some by 15% or More: CHOICE

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NOTICE OF MEMBERS EXTRAORINDARY LAND DEALING MEETING

Health Insurance Premiums Skyrocket, Some by 15% or More: CHOICE

 

Should You Consider Self-Insurance? Plus Other Tips to Save!

Consumer group CHOICE has found that many Australians faced significant increases in their health insurance premiums in April, with some premiums rising as much as 17%—far higher than the annual average industry-wide price increase of 3.03%.

“CHOICE reviewed the prices of over 24,000 policies with hospital cover and found Gold policies had the highest premium increases, with average increases above 10% for HBF, HCF, HIF, and Australian Unity policies. One Gold policy in Western Australia even saw a 17% hike,” said CHOICE health insurance expert Jodi Bird.

“With these sky-high increases, it’s worth taking the time to review your health insurance to ensure you’re only paying for what you need, and that you’re getting it at the best possible price,” Bird added.

CHOICE’s Top Tips for Saving on Your Health Insurance

  1. Drop Gold Hospital Insurance

“Gold hospital cover has become too expensive. If you have a specific condition usually covered by Gold policies and want to use the private hospital system, look for a Silver Plus policy or consider self-insurance.”

Self-insurance is an alternative to private health insurance. Instead of paying an insurer, you save money yourself to cover private health costs as they arise. If you don’t need any health treatment, your savings will grow.

“We have found that in some cases, opting to self-fund your health care can be the better-value option,” Bird explained.

For example, cataract surgery, one of the most common surgical procedures in Australia, is often only covered by the most expensive Gold policies. CHOICE’s analysis showed that the annual cost of top-cover health insurance could exceed the out-of-pocket cost for a private cataract procedure.

“This option may only be suitable for people who have few health issues and do not anticipate any unexpected health events. And of course, you need to ensure you have the money set aside in case you require a surgical procedure or treatment in the private system,” Bird advised.

  1. Compare Policies to Find a Good Deal

“We always recommend comparing policies to find the best value policy to suit your needs. The same cover with a different insurer may save you hundreds of dollars a year. Look beyond the well-known big funds and consider smaller funds; switching to a smaller fund often provides a cheaper deal,” said Bird.

“If you’re unsure where to start, CHOICE has an independent health insurance comparison tool that allows you to compare thousands of policies from over 40 insurers,” Bird suggested.

  1. Do You Need Extras Insurance?

“The value of extras insurance really depends on the individual. It can be worth purchasing, but only if you use it enough that it pays out more than the premiums that are coming out of your pocket,” Bird noted.

“If you need extras insurance, shop around and buy your extras from a different provider than your standard hospital cover if you find a better deal,” Bird recommended.

Compare health insurance policies here: CHOICE Health Insurance Comparison Tool

 

For more health news, click here.

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NSW Seniors Urged to Book Free Flu Vaccine Amid Rising Respiratory Illnesses

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NOTICE OF MEMBERS EXTRAORINDARY LAND DEALING MEETING

NSW Seniors Urged to Book Free Flu Vaccine Amid Rising Respiratory Illnesses

 

People aged 65 and over are being strongly urged to book their free influenza vaccine as respiratory illnesses continue to rise across NSW.

The latest NSW Health Respiratory Surveillance Report, released today, indicates a rapid increase in influenza activity in NSW, with COVID-19 transmission also reaching high levels.

NSW Chief Health Officer Dr. Kerry Chant reported a 27% increase in influenza notifications and a 23% increase in COVID-19 notifications for the week ending 25 May compared to the previous week.

“While everyone aged six months and over is urged to get their influenza vaccine as soon as possible, it is particularly important for those at higher risk of severe illness from the virus,” Dr. Chant said.

“Influenza immunisation rates aren’t where they need to be. Less than half of people aged 65 and over in NSW have received their influenza vaccine this year. We really need to see that number go up, especially as people in this age group are among those most at risk of severe illness.

“We expect the number of influenza cases to quickly increase in the weeks ahead, so now is the time to get vaccinated if you haven’t already done so.”

The influenza vaccine is free and readily available for those at higher risk of severe illness from influenza. It is available through GPs for any age group and through pharmacies for everyone aged five years and over.

Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network (SCHN) Infectious Diseases Paediatrician Dr. Phil Britton noted that influenza notifications are increasing across all age groups, particularly among young children aged three to four years.

“In recent weeks, we have seen influenza cases rising among young children. The best thing parents can do to keep their kids well this winter, and reduce the risk of them being hospitalised due to influenza, is to ensure their children receive a flu vaccine,” Dr. Britton said.

Free Flu Vaccination Eligibility:

  • People aged 65 and over
  • Children aged six months to under five years
  • Aboriginal people from six months of age
  • Pregnant women
  • Those with serious health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, immune disorders, severe asthma, kidney, heart, and lung disease

Steps to Protect Yourself and Others from Respiratory Viruses:

  • Stay up to date with recommended influenza and COVID-19 vaccinations
  • Stay home if you are sick and wear a mask if you need to leave home
  • Gather outdoors or in large, well-ventilated spaces with open doors and windows
  • Avoid crowded spaces
  • Consider doing a rapid antigen test (RAT) before visiting people at higher risk of severe illness
  • Talk with your doctor now if you are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 or influenza to make a plan about what to do if you get sick, including what test to take, and discussing if you are eligible for antiviral medicines
  • Don’t visit people who are at higher risk of severe illness if you are sick or have tested positive for COVID-19 or influenza
  • Practice good hand hygiene, including regular hand washing

For more information and to book your vaccination, visit your local GP or pharmacy.

 

For more seniors news, click here.

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