Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Rough Road to Progress Against Alzheimer's Disease

The Rough Road to Progress Against Alzheimer's Disease
Sep 13, 2012

Two high-profile Alzheimer’s drug development failures were announced in recent weeks shining a spotlight on the challenges and frustrations inherent in Alzheimer’s research. Alzheimer’s disease is among the most devastating and costly illnesses we face and the need for new treatments will only become more acute as our population ages.

Understanding a disease and developing medicines to treat it is always a herculean task but Alzheimer’s brings particular challenges and long odds. A new report from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), "Researching Alzheimer’s Medicines: Setbacks and Stepping Stones", examines the complexities of researching and treating Alzheimer’s and drug development success rates in recent years.

Since 1998, there have been 101 unsuccessful attempts to develop drugs to treat Alzheimer’s—or as some call them “failures,” according to the new analysis. In that time three new medicines have been approved to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease; however, for every research project that succeeded, 34 failed to yield a new medicine.

These “failures” may appear to be dead ends – a waste of time and resources – but to researchers they are both an inevitable and necessary part of making progress. These setbacks often contribute to eventual success by helping guide and redirect research on potential new drugs. In fact, the recent unsuccessful trials have provided a wealth of new information which researchers are now sifting through to inform their ongoing research.

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States today, with 5.4 million people currently affected.[i]  By 2050, the number of Americans with the disease is projected to reach 13.5 million at a cost of over $1.1 trillion unless new treatments to prevent, arrest or cure the disease are found.[ii]  According to the Alzheimer’s Association a new medicine that delays the onset of the disease could change that trajectory and save $447 billion a year by 2050.

According to another new report, researchers are currently working on nearly 100 medicines in development for Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Although research is not a straight, predictable path, with continued dedication, we will make a difference for every person at risk of suffering from this terrible, debilitating disease.

[i]Alzheimer's Association, “Factsheet,” (March 2012), 
[ii]Alzheimer's Association, 2012 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures, Alzheimer's and Dementia, Volume 8, Issue 2