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Aurora Alzheimer's patient says new drug is reason to hope

When John Domeck was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2019, he and his wife Ann were concerned for their future.

They worried about what life would be like with a disease that cruelly eliminates memories and deteriorates mental functions, eventually leading to death.

However, the Domecks said their worry turned to hope when John was accepted to participate in a clinical trial of the drug Leqembi at the Cleveland Clinic in 2020.

The trial found the drug led to a slowdown of the disease's progression among participants. And this month the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it for the treatment of Alzheimer's.

Leqembi has allowed him to live for the four years since he was diagnosed largely untouched by Alzheimer's effects, according to Domeck.

"It's allowed us to do most things," he said. "The vast majority of things that we were able to do before — I mean, in reality, there's not much that I don't do."

Ann Domeck said she and her husband have been able to travel and attend important family milestone events due to the lack of significant progression of his Alzheimer's.

"We have seen our son get married," she said. "We've watched our daughter (get) her MBA in Europe. ... We've been to Europe twice, been to Alaska. ... Really, John's right. We're doing everything."

The drug, which was formally approved by the FDA on July 6, has been found to slow Alzheimer's progression by 27% by reducing certain plaques that form in the brain.

The drug does come with possible side effects. According to the FDA, swelling or bleeding in the brain can occur.

But according to Domeck's doctor, Dr. James Leverenz the drug's approval is a positive sign for the future.

"I do think this is the first foray, basically, into a new class of medications that we hope and we think may be significantly beneficial for people with Alzheimer's disease," he said.

Leverenz, who also serves as director of the Cleveland Clinic's Cleveland Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and the Cleveland Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, said this is an important breakthrough.

"For someone who's worked in this for decades, I think to actually have something that treats the disease itself is pretty exciting," he said.

Case Western Reserve University's Mark Chance added that the drug may only be the beginning of better treatments as the success of treating Alzheimer's by removing plaques from the brain provides a proof of concept. That proof will open the door to new investment in research, said Chance, director of the Center for Proteomics and Bioinformatics at CWRU's School of Medicine and member of the venture capitalist firm Cleveland Life Sciences Accelerator Fund.

"I think you're going to see research dollars focus — shift over to where there's a success model," he said.

Stephen Langel is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media's engaged journalism team.