A year after being approved as the first new treatment for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 22 years, Radicava is altering the way physicians treat the illness, which is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Patients who have been using the new treatment report noticeable, meaningful changes in the control of their ALS very quickly after initiating treatment.
ALS is a rapidly progressive degenerative neurological disease that affects the nerves of the brain and the spinal cord. Approximately 6,000 new patients are diagnosed with ALS each year. Life expectancy after diagnosis is only 2 to 5 years. In ALS the muscles literally waste away and Radicava has been shown to slow that progression.
In clinical trials in Japan, Radicava has show to slow the progression of ALS by 33%. Such a reduction in disease advancement is important for patients with such a short survival rate. These patients are able to maintain a higher quality of life for a longer period of time.
In interviews, some doctors have been calling the new treatment a “game changer”:
“This medication seems to be the first that is really causing a change. It’s a game changer. This is kind of the last disease that I can think of where we have not had a lot to offer and now that’s changing.” – Dr. Cornelius Robens, M.D., a neurologist
Radicava therapy is not without its critics. It’s expensive and many insurance plans are resisting the option of covering it, making the treatment out of reach for many ALS patients. A recent article pegged the cost of a dose of Radicava at $1,000 (drug cost only, not administration), with a yearly cost estimated to be $146,000.
Radicava is delivered by infusion. The patient must travel to an infusion center and have the drug administered by a nurse using infusion pumps. This is an additional cost to therapy outside of drug cost and is another hindrance to insurance coverage and patient affordability.
Accessibility is not only limited to cost. Patients taking Radicava have it infused daily for 14 days and then take two weeks off. Then they return for 10 more daily infusions in a row. After this initial cycle, the patients are given 10 days of infusions followed by 14 days off and they repeat that cycle. Some critics contend that this places more stress on patients who already have trouble getting around and further limit treatment accessibility, especially for low income patients.
Despite questions surrounding cost and patient accessibility, Radicava is a novel approach to treating patients with a devastating disease and the only new treatment in over two decades. All new drugs go through a process of insurance acceptance. If results with the drug continue to be positive, hopefully more insurance providers will agree to cover it in the future.