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Opinion

New Treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease Are on the Horizon

The brain is the last great frontier in science, and its complexity poses unique challenges for researchers. But the need for breakthrough discoveries has never been more urgent.

In the U.S. alone, nearly 100 million people are affected by neurological disorders — that works out to about one in three Americans. That high incidence of neurological disorders comes with a high price tag: nearly $800 billion per year to treat the enormous patient population affected by the most common neurological diseases.

As a neurologist and biomedical researcher focused on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, I’ve seen the increasing toll of these disorders firsthand. Over the past 20 years, we have made incredible advances in our understanding of Alzheimer’s, but we also have experienced discouraging setbacks, with the failure of many treatments in clinical trial. And we face a growing wave of millions of new cases each year.

In Illinois alone, we have an estimated 220,000 people, ages 65 and older, who have Alzheimer’s. That number is projected to increase by more than 18 percent by 2025.

It’s been 14 years since the last new drug for Alzheimer’s disease was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The outlook may seem bleak — especially if you or a loved one are living with the disease.

But where many are dismayed, I am hopeful. I see marked progress in the last several years — advances that occur faster and in greater frequency. It wasn’t that long ago that a cancer diagnosis was considered a death sentence. Today, we herald incredible new immunotherapy treatments that are providing lifesaving, cancer-killing cures to patients without any other option available.

We are in a new era of medicine today, where advancements and groundbreaking research are driving new treatments and cures for everything from cancer and hepatitis C to rare diseases, diabetes and heart disease.

When it comes to Alzheimer’s, there is a robust pipeline, driven by the tireless efforts of researchers and scientists around the world. My colleagues and I are determined to wield all that we continue to learn about the brain and the neurological system to bring new medicines to market for patients.

The proof is right there in the numbers: A new report shows 537 medicines in development for neurological disorders. There are more than 92 medicines in development for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia alone. And those numbers are matched with robust financial support: Congress recently appropriated an additional $414 million in funding for Alzheimer’s and dementia research. The Gates Foundation is dedicating $100 million for private-public partnerships in research, as well.

We have made great strides over the 20 years I have been practicing medicine, and I believe the next 20 years will be ones of great accomplishment with new and more personalized medicines for the millions affected by Alzheimer’s.

At Lundbeck, we are attacking Alzheimer’s disease from several fronts. In our late-stage pipeline, we have symptomatic treatments — therapies that may offer benefits for patients who are in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. In our earlier-stage pipeline, we are exploring disease-modifying treatments that aim to slow the progression of the disease.

I’m also proud to be participating in important conversations about a new Alzheimer’s research framework. This will help researchers identify the disease in its earliest, pre-symptomatic stage so we can intervene with treatments that, hopefully, will slow or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s.

Progress is, indeed, being made, and I am confident the discoveries on the horizon will enable us to conquer this last, challenging frontier of science and the human body.

 

Gary Tong, MD/Ph.D., is the U.S. therapeutic area head for dementia clinical research at Lundbeck, a global pharmaceutical company with its U.S. headquarters in Illinois, and he is a neurologist and noted Alzheimer’s disease researcher.

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