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Sunday, 10 December, 2000, 00:03 GMT
Alzheimer's drug boosted by study
Nursing home
The drug may be able to delay worsening of symptoms
Campaigners are hopeful that new research pointing to the benefits of a dementia drug will pave the way for more to receive it.

Galantamine can boost mental abilities such as attention span and memory, and appears to be able to slow the physical decline which characterizes Alzheimer's Disease.

We certainly think the drugs represent good value.

Dr Richard Harvey, Alzheimer's Society
The latest study, reported in the British Medical Journal, showed that a wider range of patients than anticipated may be able to benefit.

A total of 653 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's Disease, recruited at 86 clinics in Europe and Canada, were involved.

Some received the drug for six months, while others were given a "placebo" with no active ingredients.

Those given Galantamine fared significantly better when their "cognitive function" - or mental abilities were assessed.

Alzheimer's experts suggest that the modest benefits could mean many extra months in which a patient can live independently and generally enjoy a far better quality of life.

However, charities say that Galantamine, and similar drugs such as Aricept, are not endorsed by many health authorities on the grounds that they may not represent good value for money.

The government's advisory group on new or expensive medicines, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, has been considering whether or not Alzheimer's drugs represent good value to the NHS.

Its deliberations ended last week, and a formal decision is expected early in the New Year.

20 a week

The class of drugs under consideration by Nice cost approximately 20 a week to prescribe.

Dr Richard Harvey, director of research at the Alzheimer's Society, said that surveys carried out by the society and submitted to Nice had found that the extra period before the disease takes a grip was greatly valued by both patients and their carers.

He said: "For some people, it's a time in which they can tie up loose ends.

"We certainly think the drugs represent good value.

"If you look at what else 1,000 a year can buy in terms of services for Alzheimer's patients, it really isn't very much."

The society says that, by potentially delaying the need for higher levels of care, such as a move to a residential nursing home, the drug could actually end up saving the state money.

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