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Medicines in development for Alzheimer's PDF Print E-mail
Written by Holyoke Enterprise   

As the champagne corks are popping this New Year’s Eve, the first American Baby Boomers will turn age 65. Members of the demographic bulge that transformed American politics and culture are expected to usher in yet another momentous change—a huge increase in the number of Alzheimer’s patients.

In Colorado, the number of residents with Alzheimer’s is expected to grow from 72,000 to over 110,000 in less than 15 years as an estimated 5-10 percent of people over age 65 and 30-40 percent of people over age 85 will develop the disease.

Although Alzheimer’s is not a natural condition of aging, the vast majority of patients diagnosed with the disease are ages 65 and over. Nationally, unless new medicines are found to prevent, arrest or cure Alzheimer’s, more than 13 million Americans will suffer from the disease by 2050.

“In millions of American homes, Alzheimer’s disease already presents a terrible problem. The expected increase in Alzheimer’s patients portends not only more personal pain and grief, but a crisis in nearly every state,” said John Castellani, president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

If no medical progress is made, the cost of caring for Alzheimer’s patients will rise to $1.08 trillion nationally by 2050, according to an estimate by the Alzheimer’s Association. That is more than the current U.S. Department of Defense budget. It is nearly 25 times more than this year’s entire Department of Homeland Security budget.

Hope lies with new treatments. Today, America’s bio-pharmaceutical companies are researching 98 new medicines, according to a report prepared by PhRMA, nine medicines are being developed by companies with a physical presence in Colorado, and 34 clinical trials are underway in Colorado for Alzheimer’s.

All 98 medicines are either in clinical trials or review by the FDA. The work indicates a major commitment to Alzheimer’s, given that each new medicine costs, on average, more than $1 billion to research and develop.

“Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease that will affect a growing number of Coloradans and their families,” said Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. “Colorado’s biopharmaceutical industry is an important partner in the fight against this disease. It is a battle we must win.”

“Tremendous progress has been made in our understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and we remain hopeful that effective therapies will be available soon,” said Dr. Samuel Henderson, Vice President, Research and Development for Broomfield-based Accera Inc.

Research into Alzheimer’s had long been hampered by the difficulty in accessing the brain. In the last few years, however, advances in imaging technologies, such as positron emission tomography (PET) scans, have greatly advanced researchers’ understanding of Alzheimer’s.

Imaging’s ability to reflect changes related to Alzheimer’s disease has advanced significantly, particularly with longitudinal and cross sectional data from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. The initiative created in 2004 is a years-long collaborative effort of biopharmaceutical research companies, non-profits, universities, the National Institutes of Health and the FDA.

Additionally, a better understanding of the complex mechanisms that lead to the plaque and tangles in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients is offering new targets for pharmaceutical researchers.

Although most Americans are aware of the impact the aging of America will have on national programs like Social Security, little attention has been paid to the crisis that will accompany a huge increase in the number of Alzheimer’s patients.

In contrast, 13 countries in Europe either have or are working on national plans to address Alzheimer’s. For example, France’s $2.2 billion plan establishes caregiver coordination centers around the country and pledges to make “unprecedented efforts in research.”

The hope of a new discovery drives scientists and researchers. “All diseases are important, but there is something unique and terrible about Alzheimer’s Disease,” said Rachel J. Schindler, M.D., Executive Director and Clinical Disease Area Expert in Alzheimer’s Disease at Pfizer, Inc.

“Losing your memory is losing your identity, the person that is you. It is as if the things you’ve experienced that make you a unique person just slip away,” said Schindler. “I can’t think of anything more meaningful in medicine than to find something to treat this disease.”

The PhRMA represents the country’s leading pharmaceutical research and biotechnology companies, which are devoted to inventing medicines that allow patients to live longer, healthier and more productive lives. PhRMA companies are leading the way in the search for new cures.

PhRMA members alone invested an estimated $45.8 billion in 2009 in discovering and developing new medicines. Industry-wide research and investment reached a record $65.3 billion in 2009.