Earlier this week, the advisory panel that is charged with providing specific recommendations to the federal government regarding the anticipated National Alzheimer’s Plan announced the goal of developing a treatment against Alzheimer’s disease by 2025.
The development of an effective treatment would certainly address a significant unmet need, as there currently is no agent that is capable of preventing or curing this disease. Apparently at least some members of the panel wished to set an even more aggressive target date. In an interview this week with Nature, Ronald Peterson, who chairs the advisory panel, stated:
“We’re leaning towards a 2020 goal as opposed to, say, 2025. The shorter time frame adds a sense of urgency.” [Nature]
While Dr. Peterson concedes that it is unrealistic to expect that there will be a cure by 2020, he believes that it is feasible to expect significant progress by that date – assuming that federal funding for Alzheimer’s research increases significantly over the current level of less than $500 million per year. However, the National Alzheimer’s Project Act does not provide for any additional funding, and the advisory panel only has the ability to recommend, not to mandate, that the government should provide additional financial support.
Not everyone is convinced that targeting the development of an effective treatment by a particular year is beneficial. An article published today by Reuters indicates:
"No one set a deadline for the 'War on cancer' or in the fight against HIV/AIDS. We make progress and we keep fighting. The same should be true for Alzheimer's," said Dr. Sam Gandy, an Alzheimer's researcher at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "In my mind, that provides the unfortunate sense that we will have 'failed' if we don't have a cure by 2025." [Reuters]
While researchers have devoted considerable time and effort toward finding a cure for Alzheimer’s, the disease is still not completely understood, and – given the significant delay between disease onset and the appearance of symptoms – it is likely that clinical trials for a novel Alzheimer’s therapeutic could take at least fifteen years. This tends to suggest that it may be unrealistic to anticipate that an effective treatment will be available only 13 years from now, particularly since many promising new findings are still in preclinical stages.
The need for an agent that would prevent, delay, or cure Alzheimer's is clearly great, and will only increase going forward as the population continues to age. We will therefore hope that researchers, and the pharmaceutical industry, will press on toward developing an effective treatment as quickly as possible – regardless of what specific date that may ultimately prove to be.