Eisai’s Alzheimer’s drug Leqembi set for China rollout

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Eisai plans to introduce its groundbreaking Alzheimer’s drug, Leqembi, to 1,500 people in China this year, with expectations of significant growth in 2025 as diagnosis methods evolve. The company anticipates that more convenient Alzheimer’s blood tests, expected next year, could help reach a larger share of China’s estimated 17 million people with early-stage disease.

China, one of the fastest-aging countries, holds immense potential for Leqembi’s growth, according to a company spokesperson. Eli Lilly, developing a similar treatment called donanemab, has filed for approval in China and is conducting trials with volunteers in several countries.

Leqembi, the first Alzheimer’s treatment proven to alter the disease’s course, removes a toxic protein called beta amyloid from the brain. China approved Leqembi in January, and it is already available in the U.S. and Japan, with European review underway.

The treatment, administered by infusion twice a month, slowed disease progression by 27% in clinical trials. Eisai aims to start using the drug in China by September, with 1,500 patients expected by March 2025, limited by diagnostic capabilities.

Leqembi’s sales could soar in 2025 with the introduction of blood tests to assess amyloid burden, potentially replacing PET scans or invasive lumbar punctures. Citi analyst Hidemaru Yamaguchi expects peak sales outside Japan and the U.S. in 2030 at ¥126 billion ($1.08 billion).

Alzheimer’s diagnosis and treatment rates in China remain low, with limited public awareness, according to The China Alzheimer Report 2022. China has been increasing its imaging capacity, with Siemens Healthineers noting over 45% growth in molecular imaging market.

Eisai plans to initially launch Leqembi in China’s private market, priced at about 200,000 yuan ($28,180) per year, with a decision on seeking government coverage to follow. Inclusion on China’s National Reimbursement Drug List typically leads to significant price cuts.

To qualify for treatment, patients undergo cognitive and genetic testing, and MRI scans monitor potential brain swelling or bleeding. Economist Dr. Soeren Mattke highlighted China’s lack of primary care physicians for preliminary testing, concluding that China is “ill prepared to provide timely access to an Alzheimer’s treatment.”

(Source: Reuters | Japan Times)

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