Letter: Aricept: waiting for the data

Sir: Your article "The truth about Aricept - a new drug for Alzheimer's" (5 August) is seriously premature in taking so restricted a view of this drug's potential. "The truth" will not be known until we have more experience.

Aricept is currently used only on patients in the comparatively early stages of Alzheimer's disease. The drug's trial data was based on that patient group, so that is the group for which it is licensed.

That does not necessarily mean - as stated in your article - that it has no effect on more serious cases; nor that "Aricept works only for Alzheimer's; it is not effective for other forms of dementia". There simply isn't any research data available: we don't know the answer either way. It is far too early to rule out categorically further uses for this important development in Alzheimer's treatment.

Your point about funding fears and the patchy availability of the drug across the UK is well made. In Southampton, as in other areas, the use of memory clinics will identify patients likely to benefit from the new therapy and - crucially - monitor their progress over a period of months to ensure that this expensive treatment is concentrated on patients who experience a clear benefit.

We expect patients to stay on Aricept for less time (on average) than was initially predicted on its launch - so the real costs of making it available will be far lower than initially feared. Conclusive evidence that this is the case should reassure reluctant prescribers - and ultimately ensure that this and similar future drug therapies become more widely and evenly available nationwide.


Director, Thornhill Research Unit

Southampton Community Health Services NHS Trust