Over the years, hundreds of drugs have been tested in regards to a potential Alzheimer’s cure. The very first clinical trial to examine a potential Alzheimer’s drug, began three decades ago.
Fast forward to today — there still isn’t a cure (although we have made some incredible progress, so it’s not all doom and gloom).
If you’re wondering why we have not yet developed a cure, there are two key factors that may contribute to our lack of success. Here’s what you need to know.
Our Journey Towards a Cure
More than three decades ago, researchers began to focus on the potential causes of Alzheimer’s in order to develop a successful treatment. Since then, we have certainly uncovered a lot of clues — but in many cases, answers led to more questions.
Alzheimer’s is an incredibly complex, multidimensional disease. With both genetics and environmental variables playing a role, there will not likely be one ‘miracle’ drug that treats everyone. Instead, a successful treatment will likely be based on a more customized, individualistic approach.
When Alzheimer’s research first began, scientists were optimistic and enthusiastic about the potential progress they would make. This initial positivity has since been replaced by more realistic expectations. The truth is, that after numerous clinical trials (many which were driven by sound scientific data), all attempts have been ineffective.
Now, before you become too concerned, know that we have made immense progress. Like cancer treatments, Alzheimer’s will likely follow a similar course in terms of transformative progress. Meaning, each piece of the puzzle will bring us closer to that final discovery — the one that leads to success.
As stated by a physician-scientist and director of the University of Florida’s McKnight Brain Institute, there are two key factors that standing in our way — a lack of funding and a patent law.
Yes, our current financial and patent system.
Funding isn’t as optimal as it could be and there is, in fact, a law that is standing in the way regarding that funding.
In order to overcome these obstacles, there will need to be a combined effort by not only scientists, but lawmakers, citizens, and society as a whole. This is a global battle that we are all fighting together — let’s work together to achieve our ultimate goal of finding a cure.
More on These Two Obstacles
You may have heard that Bill Gates recently donated 50 million USD to support Alzheimer’s research. Although this seems like a substantial amount, research requires significant and regular funding — the big, big bucks!
Governments within industrialized nations have admitted that funding is lacking for Alzheimer’s research. This is leading to an increased awareness — which is a good thing.
Funding is improving, there’s no doubt about that, but we still have a ways to go in order to provide the level of funding required. In the past five years, for instance, National Institute of Health funding has increased from $503 million USD per year to $1.391 billion USD per year. In addition, an extra $400 million USD is being proposed for the year 2018.
If your eyes are popping out at those numbers, know that Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in America. It is chewing up both federal and state health care budgets and in terms of individuals and their families, it is costing these citizens their savings. Due to the current costs, research is left with very little, in comparison to what is required to really push ideas and scientific discovery forward.
So, if Alzheimer’s is so expensive, why is it that in 2015, Washington committed to:
- $5.4 billion for cancer research
- $1.2 billion to heart disease
- $3 billion to HIV and AIDS researcher
Yet Alzheimer’s funding only reached $566 million?
A Patent Law, Alzheimer’s Research, and Pharmaceutical Funding (or Lack Thereof)
Okay, so funding is an issue, but what is this law that is hindering progress?
There is a current patent law that is a major, yet unspoken roadblock.
When aiming to run a clinical trial, even testing a symptomatic therapy can cost more than $1 billion. When focusing on prevention trials, the cost will far exceed that value. In this case, a trial can take five to ten years before researchers are able to determine the effectiveness of a drug or treatment option.
Based on patent protection and the role of market exclusivity, which may have already expired at this point, this limits funding from the pharmaceutical sector. If they are going to invest in Alzheimer’s research, they need to justify the cost. Based on current patent laws, they’re simply not interested from a business standpoint. The risk is just too high.
We, as a society, need a new financial-based model when developing therapies and treatment options. This will encourage long-term investment, instead of seeing Alzheimer’s research as a major risk. Once again, as awareness increases, changes are likely to be made, but we must join forces and work together.
On a positive note, as funding does increase, there will be more and more researchers onboard — many whom will likely have fresh ideas and new perspectives.
We are heading in the right direction, and with increased awareness and support, who knows what the near future holds.
We’ll keep you up to date regarding the latest in research — stay tuned!