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Tackling the Thorny Problem of Alzheimer’s

September 4, 2014
Football fans are gearing up for tonight’s opening game when the defending Champion Seattle Seahawks take on the Green Bay Packers, and last minute fantasy leaguers are scrambling to finish their drafts and set their starting line-ups. The NFL has also been in the news recently following preliminary approval of a deal in the class-action lawsuit to compensate former players for concussion-related injury claims.

According to a 2012 study in Neurology, NFL players are three times more likely than the general US population to die from neurodegenerative diseases, and four times more likely to die from Alzheimer’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

It’s not just NFL players who are at risk. Women are more likely than men to develop Alzheimer’s. Two thirds of the five million Americans diagnosed with it are women, according to the Washington Post.

The number of Alzheimer’s cases in the US is expected to rise dramatically in the next quarter century, tripling by 2050.  According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the direct costs of caring for those with Alzheimer's is more than $200 billion annually (including $150 billion in costs to Medicare and Medicaid), with projections that it will increase to $1.2 trillion by 2050.

Clearly, more must be done to find treatments that delay or cure the disease.

The reality is that with high profile failures of promising Alzheimer ’s disease science making headlines each year,there are some basic scientific questions that still need to be answered. These questions are too big and costly for any one single company or research institution to address. The problem requires collaboration and pre-competitive research.

BIO President and CEO Jim Greenwood recently proposed a comprehensive, long-term, longitudinal research effort modeled after the successful Framingham study that helped to revolutionize therapies for cardiovascular disease.  The study could complement and build on the National Alzheimer’s Project Act and the National AD Plan and other important work and partnerships in this area.

A study of this nature would allow researchers to gather the large amounts of data they need to discover the correlations between biomarkers for early detection and the patients that ultimately develop dementia. That information could speed the development of innovative new drugs and allow researchers to better understand the link between concussions and Alzheimer’s. It also would allow for the collection and analysis of vast amounts of research from past clinical trials, insurance provider data, patient groups studies and NIH research.

Biotechnology companies are committed to finding new treatments for Alzheimer’s patients, with nearly 75 medicines in development, according to a 2013 PhRMA report. This research offers hope to patients, families, and caregivers in the face of a truly devastating disease.