After heart disease and cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are the leading cause of death for seniors, responsible for one out of every three deaths. Today, the disease devastates the minds of people of all ages and creates substantial burdens for families and caregivers. By 2060, the number of patients affected is expected to double from 5 million to 10 million.
Alzheimer’s is one of the most complex diseases biopharmaceutical researchers have ever studied. Of the top 10 causes of death, it is the only one that cannot be prevented, cured. Since 1998, there have been 123 attempts to bring new treatments to the market, and just four have been successful. Even then, these medicines treat symptoms but not the underlying cause which would modify the course of the disease.
Despite numerous setbacks, America's biopharmaceutical companies remain committed to combating this devastating disease, with 92 potential new treatments in clinical trials today. At a recent panel hosted by the American Society on Aging in San Francisco, researchers and patient advocates gathered to share the work the biopharmaceutical industry is doing in search for a cure.
“There have been a lot of headlines recently about Alzheimer’s research resulting in ‘failures,’” said Phyllis Ferrell, vice president of the global Alzheimer’s disease team at Eli Lilly and Company. “But a failed experiment is the only one that does not give you more information. These aren’t failures because we are still learning so much about the brain. They are putting us on the road to pursue progress together.”
Panelists also noted the importance of outreach to minority communities. Alzheimer’s disease has been linked to several risk factors that are more prevalent among these communities, such as cardiovascular diseases, health behaviors, socioeconomic status and environmental factors. Compared to the non-Latino white population, African-Americans are twice as likely and Latinos are 1.5 times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s and often, these communities face unique barriers to research opportunities. “Alzheimer’s disease is an acute issue in communities of people of color,” said Jason Resendez, the executive director of the LatinosAgainstAlzheimer's Coalition and chief of staff for UsAgainstAlzheimer's.
Scientists have made progress in unraveling the complexities of the brain and identifying the underpinnings of Alzheimer’s, but finding an effective treatment remains a daunting challenge. Nevertheless, America’s biopharmaceutical companies are committed to improving care for patients, and one day, finding a cure.
“People choose to join the biopharmaceutical industry because they want to come to work every day and do something that will make a big impact in someone’s life,” Ferrell said. “We all believe we are on the cusp of a breakthrough.”
Andrew Powaleny is Senior Director of Public Affairs at PhRMA and leads the organization's scientific communications. Before joining PhRMA in 2015, he worked in public affairs for a small firm in Washington, DC and served as Deputy Press Secretary for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Andrew came to Washington, D.C. via Connecticut with a degree from Eastern Connecticut State University where he majored in public policy and government. Andrew is active as a runner and volunteer with the DC Front Runners; most recently serving on its Board of Directors for three years as co-race director. He is also a member of the NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists and mentors students through his alumni association with The Fund for American Studies. Andrew is passionate about scientific innovation, especially for mental illness, and his heroes are the men and women of America’s biopharmaceutical research companies.