Alzheimer's Patch: Better Than the Pill?

A new treatment is in development for Alzheimer's patients, using a patch to infuse the drug Exelon through patients' skin.

The patch eliminates the need for patients to take certain pills, and may have fewer side effects than the same drug in pill form.

Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. is expected to seek approval to sell the patch in the United States by the end of the year.

The ABC News Medical Unit prepared this Q&A based on conversations with Alzheimer's experts, a clinical trial of this patch, and literature related to that trial.

Who could benefit from this?

Most patients with mild to moderate forms of Alzheimer's disease could benefit from this new patch, which delivers the drug Exelon directly into the bloodstream through the skin.

Exelon is a drug that is already on the market in pill form, so many Alzheimer's patients are already using this drug and may prefer the patch when it's available.

Exelon is in a class of medications called cholinesterase inhibitors. Other cholinesterase medications include Aricept (donepezil) and Reminyl (galantamine). Any patient who has benefited from these medications may benefit from this patch.

What's the time frame for Food and Drug Administration approval and will this be approved?

Exelon is already approved in pill form, so the FDA has already decided that the drugs work and is safe for patients to take by mouth. The FDA has not OK'd the patch yet, but approval could come within several months.

How does this differ from current treatments?

The new skin patch sends Exelon straight into the bloodstream, which means it may not cause side effects like nausea and vomiting in the same way the Exelon pill does.

Also, because this is a patch, patients or caregivers can apply it once daily and don't have to remember to take multiple doses of a medication. This may be a help for Alzheimer's patients who can suffer memory problems.

How effective will this be? Is it safe?

According to researchers, the Exelon patch significantly helped more than 600 patients with their active daily routines and thinking, when compared to those patients who received a patch that was not medicated.

Researchers also said that patients who took this patch did just as well as those who continued to take the Exelon pills. So, the new patch seems to work just as well as the old pill.

Exelon is known to cause serious nausea and vomiting, but patients who took the patch did not experience these side effects nearly as much as those patients taking the pill form.

Pill users suffered three times more nausea and vomiting than patch users. However, the patch caused skin irritation in a small percentage of patients.