What We're Reading: Awaiting Alzheimer's Drug Clinical Trial Results

What we’re reading, October 13, 2016: researchers, Alzheimer’s patients, and their families anxiously await the results of a clinical trial that could help slow the disease’s progress; many breast cancers detected by mammograms are overtreated even though they likely would not be fatal on their own; stock prices fall for Humana and Cigna as CMS says a minority of their patients are in plans rated 4 stars or higher.

Clinical trial results for a drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease should be released in the coming month, leaving researchers, patients, and their families cautiously optimistic in the meantime. Solanezumab, which is being tested by Eli Lilly, is an injected antibody that could potentially clear the plaques that accumulate in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. However, researchers worry that the drug could join the 99% of experimental treatments for the disease that have failed in clinical trials, which would further crush hope for those affected.

More than half of women diagnosed with breast cancer after a mammogram received treatment they didn’t actually need, subjecting them to unnecessary anxiety, treatments, and costs. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that most abnormalities detected by mammograms would likely never become deadly tumors if left untreated. Researchers now say that the mammogram's status as a life-saving prevention measure may be overblown, and more effective treatments, not screening measures, are the reason breast cancer survival rates have improved.

Humana and Cigna both suffered drops in stock prices after CMS released discouraging star ratings. The percentage of Medicare Advantage patients in Humana plans that rated 4 stars or higher fell to 37%, down from 78% last year; only 20% of Cigna’s patients are in 4-star or higher plans. In contrast, 91% of Aetna members are in 4-star plans.