Analysts: Biogen’s aducanumab could cost gov more than NASA

June 23, 2021

Analysts have been speculating on how much money Medicare could shell out to cover Alzheimer’s patients who qualify to take Biogen’s recently approved drug. The verdict? The costs could be enormous.   

On the lowest end, some analysts have speculated that Medicare could ultimately pay about $6 billion on aducanumab a year. But on the high end, estimates reach $29 billion, a figure that is higher than NASA’s $23 billion budget and that far outpaces budgets for other agencies such as the CDC, which costs the government $8 billion. All told, spending on the drug, which has been priced at $56,000 a year, could increase Medicare’s annual bill by 50%. 

According to a report in The New York Times, the estimates vary so widely because it is still unclear how widespread the use of the treatment will be.

Biogen estimates that the intended population for aducanumab — patients in the early stages of symptomatic Alzheimer’s — is about 1.5 million. But many patients will likely be deterred by potential side effects associated with the drug, including a type of swelling in the brain called ARIA. Scores of doctors have also said they are not impressed enough by the efficacy of the drug to prescribe it.

Yet, the FDA approved the treatment, which requires a once-monthly infusion, for all Alzheimer’s patients. And the allure of a medication for a devastating disease that has no other treatment options could inspire many to try it.