Healthcare: On the Agenda - Cheap drugs for dementia patients

In a nutshell

A King's College London study has found drugs that cost only 50p a day could help 450,000 advanced sufferers of dementia in the UK. The two drugs, Donepezil, more commonly known as Aricept, and Memantine, more commonly known as Ebixa, give patients extra months to live independently without the need for care.

About the treatment

Prescriptions are normally stopped once dementia has progressed beyond a certain point because the drugs are thought to stop adding any benefit. However, it is now claimed that Donepezil and Memantine work in advanced stages of the illness and could replace potentially harmful anti-psychotic medication that is used to sedate patients but may increase the risk of strokes and death.

PR strategy

King's College London briefed the media on its study into both Donepezil and Memantine, and revealed details that after clinical trials the drugs were estimated to delay symptoms by three or four months. The college organised interviews with Professor Robert Howard, lead author of the study. The college promoted its aim to help push NHS watchdog NICE to draw up new guidelines telling doctors to give Donepezil and Memantine to patients in the later stages of Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia.

Media coverage

The subject achieved widespread coverage, with the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph among those picking up the story, as well as broadcast coverage by TV news services Sky News, CBS and CNN.

500k - Number of people in the UK estimated to have Alzheimer's*

60% of the 750,000 people in the UK with dementia have not been properly diagnosed and have no access to vital drugs and care*

*Source: Alzheimer's Society.

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