FDA Approves Novartis's Exelon

Exelon improves the function of nerve cells in the brain.

It works by preventing the breakdown of a chemical called acetylcholine (ah see til KO leen). People with dementia usually have lower levels of this chemical, which is important for the processes of memory, thinking, and reasoning.

Exelon is used to treat mild to moderate dementia caused by Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease.

What It Is:

A commonly used drug to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. Exelon is FDA approved for mild and moderate stages of the disease; it is also approved for the treatment of mild to moderate dementia due to Parkinson's disease.

How It Works:

Exelon is a cholinesterase inhibitor that prevents the breakdown of acetylcholine and butyrylcholine in the brain by blocking the activity of two different enzymes. Acetylcholine and butyrylcholine play a key role in memory and learning; higher levels in the brain help nerve cells communicate more efficiently.


Exelon postpones the worsening of Alzheimer's symptoms for 6 to 12 months in about half of the people who take it. For many, the improvement is minimal, yet worthwhile. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a small percentage of people may benefit more dramatically from this drug.

Why It's Prescribed

To ease the symptoms of early Alzheimer's. Improves, maintains, or slows the decline in thinking skills and overall ability to perform daily activities of living, such as dressing, eating, or handling mail. However, it does not halt disease progression long term.

Who Benefits

People with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. About half of patients who try the drug show slight improvement. May be a particularly good choice for those with rapidly progressing disease.

How it Works

Slows the breakdown of acetylcholine, a chemical that aids memory by transmitting messages between brain cells.

Exelon belongs to a group of drugs called acetycholinesterase inhibitors. It is believed that the chemical acetylcholine, which transmits messages between brain cells in the area responsible for memory and acquiring new information, is reduced in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.

The drug helps prevent the breakdown of this important chemical, therefore helping to delay the brain cells being killed off.

It is only available on prescription and does have side effects including nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. These often settle down in time.

For many who take it there won’t be a dramatic improvement but studies have shown that up to 30% of people who have been prescribed the drug have demonstrated improvements in memory, understanding and daily living skills after just six months.