Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Future of Alzheimer’s Research

By Shawn Sullivan, Program Associate at FasterCures 

Earlier this month, Congressmen Ed Markey and Chris Smith, co-chairs of the Congressional Alzheimer’s Task Force, together with the Cure Alzheimer's Fund, held a briefing to explain the latest in Alzheimer's and dementia research and what America must do to achieve the goal of preventing and treating Alzheimer's by 2025.

USAgainstAlzheimer’s Founder George Vradenburg started the briefing with an overview of Alzheimer’s current effects on the American population and the immense dangers that lay ahead if new treatments and therapies are not discovered in the next decade:
  • Alzheimer’s currently afflicts more than 5 million Americans, and Alzheimer’s care cost $183 billion in 2010 in the United States. These numbers will triple by 2050 with current trends.
  • For every $400 spent on Alzheimer’s care, only $1 is spent on research.
  • The president’s budget for 2013 includes $80 million for Alzheimer’s research. This is about $0.26 per American citizen.
  • Alzheimer’s is the only disease in the top 10 with no disease-modifying treatment or cure. 
Vradenburg also noted that the large number of baby-boomers entering their highest risk age over the next 10 years could make estimates about future impacts seem conservative. In particular, the effects of Alzheimer’s on Medicare costs could overwhelm an already stressed system. “If funding for research stays at current levels," he said "the chances of us finding an effective treatment before this takes place are slim to none.”

Rudy Tanzi, director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit of the MassGeneral Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease (MIND) and Chair of the Research Consortium of the Cure Alzheimer's Fund, gave an overview of current research efforts. He started by mentioning two recent failed drug trials and how those failures have most members of the Alzheimer’s research community questioning current strategies. Tanzi is of the opinion that we are going after the right targets but with the wrong drugs and, more importantly, in the wrong patients. Researchers are coming to the conclusion that by the time a patient is showing symptoms of the disease, it may be too late to intervene. This will make forming future clinical trials all that more difficult. Tanzi also noted that researchers have cured Alzheimer’s in countless mice but that none of the results have been predictive of human response.

Tanzi pointed out that stagnant NIH funding is causing America to lose a generation of researchers who cannot gain access to the resources needed for innovative research. “My students are telling themselves that if I have to fight tooth and nail for research funding, what chance do they have?”

Philip Haydon, founder of GliaCure, Inc., then spoke about the exciting research underway at his company which he believes could lead us to new treatments. He noted that despite the promise of these discoveries, there is little interest from investors. “I am still dependent on the NIH if there is to be any translational research done with these discoveries,” he said. "However, NIH funding is becoming more difficult to obtain."

One attendee asked the panelists what effect sequestration – automatic, across-the-board federal spending cuts – would  have on Alzheimer’s research. They agreed that while the current level of Alzheimer’s research funding is inadequate, the cuts in research that would be imposed by the impending “fiscal cliff” would be devastating and could set back efforts to find new treatments for Alzheimer’s by a matter of decades, if not indefinitely.


Interested in learning more?  Come hear George Vradenburg speak about Alzheimer’s research at Partnering for Cures, Nov. 28-30, in New York. He will join a distinguished panel discussing “Rules, tools, and data pools for catalyzing drug development.”

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