China's much publicised new drug to treat Alzheimer's disease has hit the market, raising hopes of a cure for millions of people in the country and abroad suffering from the brain disorder.
Extracted from brown algae, the medicine is said to be the world's first innovative therapy for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease in 17 years, China's National Medical Products Administration (CNMPA) said.
The drug named GV-971, which was officially approved on November 2, is now available in the domestic market from Sunday, official media here reported.
It is however priced 40,000 yuan ($5,700) for a patient per annum.
Playing down the high price, Lyu Songtao, chairman of Shanghai Green Valley Pharmaceuticals, one of the drug's developers, said: "We will try to include it in the basic medical insurance programme so it will be reimbursable, so the drug will be affordable to most patients".
According to the CNMPA, GV-971 can treat mild to moderate forms of Alzheimer's disease and improve cognition.
The drug provides new choices to patients with Alzheimer's and continued research will be conducted on its long-term effects and safety, it said.
Alzheimer's disease, which mostly affects elderly people, is regarded as an incurable, irreversible and progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory, thinking ability and the capability to carry out simple tasks.
There are at least 50 million Alzheimer's patients worldwide, including more than 10 million in China.
The numbers are expected to triple to 150 million worldwide and 40 million in China by 2050, which will impose great burdens on the society.
Zhang Xiaodong, vice-president of the Chinese Pharmaceutical Association, said the drug is the only Alzheimer's medicine out of a number of drugs developed by pharmaceutical companies around the globe to have survived clinical trials over the past two decades, despite the investment of hundreds of billions of US dollars.
"Worldwide, progress in the research and development of drugs for the disease has been very slow, and the needs of patients are increasingly urgent," he was quoted as saying by the state-run China Economic Net.
Zhang Zhenxin, a professor of neurology at Peking Union Medical College Hospital and a leading participant in the third-phase trial of the drug, said many patients taking part in the trial had shown great improvement in their cognitive abilities, and some improvement even persisted after they stopped using the drug.
"We expect to have further research on the drug after its availability in the market, to explain more clearly how the drug works," she said.
Shanghai Green Valley Pharmaceuticals also announced on Sunday that it will invest USD 3 billion for further research on the drug, including conducting clinical research involving more than 2,000 Alzheimer's patients in 200 clinical research centres overseas, including North America, the European Union and the Asia-Pacific region, the report said.
The research will show the drug's safety and efficiency in people of different races, it said.
The international clinical trials may finish in 2024, paving the way for its approval overseas, the company said.