More Than Thirty Years Later: National Alzheimer’s Month

gv-boardToday’s guest blog comes from George Vradenburg,  co-founder of USAgainstAlzheimer’s and the convener of the Global CEO Initiative on Alzheimer’s Disease.

 We have witnessed tremendous innovation in science and technology since 1983, when President Reagan designated November as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. Thirty years ago, we had no Internet or cell phones, no electric cars, no treatment for HIV/AIDS, and the word ‘breast’ – as in breast cancer – was not mentioned in mixed company. Today, it’s a much different world on all fronts.

 By contrast, from the perspective of a person with Alzheimer’s or a caregiver, there has been no significant progress – Alzheimer’s remains a cruel and deadly disease with no cure, no treatment or disease-modifying drug. Alzheimer’s now afflicts 5.2 million Americans, costs taxpayers more than $200 billion annually, and is expected to triple in prevalence in the next thirty years and to kill more than 25 million Americans.

 If we are going to make meaningful progress against Alzheimer's, we must get angry, we must be bold, and we must act.

One point needs particular emphasis: We need more funding for basic research and incentives for private investment. This year, Congress will support more than $5.4 billion in cancer research, $2 billion in research into cardiovascular disease, and $3 billion in HIV/AIDS research. But Alzheimer's research will receive only around $560 million. We know from our efforts to combat polio and HIV/AIDS that there is a correlation between investing in research and medical breakthroughs. It’s high time we do that for Alzheimer’s disease. And globally embraced incentive systems, such as the GAIN Act and orphan drug exclusivity, are proven vehicles for encouraging additional investment in treatments for large unmet needs. Congress is considering legislation, The MODDERN Cures Act, that address more broadly all types of unmet medical needs by creating a new incentives, such as new patent and data protection periods.

By March 2015, we will have united the G7, WHO, OECD, other governments and industry, and scientific and NGO stakeholders around a comprehensive, bold, action-oriented global plan to achieve the shared goal of preventing and treating Alzheimer’s by 2025. In addition, we will be seeking international commitments from the public and finance sectors to fashion a predictable and sustained commitment to Alzheimer’s research, drug discovery, and care delivery. 

That global action and financing plan will include strategies to change the risk/reward equation for company investment in the dementia space, including reductions in the time and cost of clinical trials, clear regulatory pathways for drug approvals in mild and asymptomatic populations, and innovation-friendly reimbursement and payment policies to assure access of those at risk of dementia to new treatments. Eli Lilly and Company has been at the leading edge of this work – in drug development, in engaging with those touched by the disease, and in the hard work of gathering the critical stakeholders together in this effort.

Back in 1983, President Reagan, who would go on to develop the disease in his later years, said, “The emotional, financial and social consequences of Alzheimer's disease are so devastating that it deserves special attention.” Sadly, that statement is just as true today as it was then.

When we observe National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month again in two years – not another 10 years – I truly hope we will be celebrating a scientific breakthrough to put us on the path to an end to Alzheimer’s. With enough commitment, it can be done.