Alzheimer’s disease is uniquely devastating. It destroys a person’s memories and cognitive capabilities, making it impossible for them to live fulfilled and independent lives. It can be emotionally and financially devastating – for families, for carers, and for society at large.
As we start a new decade, now is the time to fight back. We need greater focus, commitment and urgency to drive breakthroughs in the effort against Alzheimer’s.
In the 21st century, aging is a growing contributor to fiscal, monetary and societal costs, and Alzheimer’s, a result of rapid aging that causes dementia, is the most expensive chronic condition of this population, with prevalence rates at unprecedented levels. The seventh leading cause of death worldwide, dementia cost the world $1.25 trillion in 2018 and affected about 50 million people in 2019.
Without major Alzheimer’s research breakthroughs, the number of people affected will triple by 2050, to 152 million people. This growing threat makes Alzheimer’s disease one of the most urgent health and economic threats to economic growth, workforce participation, fiscal sustainability and health systems around the world.
In recent years, however, the response to Alzheimer’s has stalled. When we certainly applaud that with recent clinical trial results at Biogen, and some patients may soon benefit from a novel clinical decline reducing treatment, there have been no new drugs to market in 15 years. From 1998 to 2017 there have been about 146 failed attempts at developing Alzheimer’s drugs, and 2018 marked another half-dozen or so. Drugs going through the late-stage pipeline were down 16% in the past year. Efforts to develop new biomarkers, which would speed research and treatment delivery, has been siloed, with no clear pathway to validation and limited commercial incentives to invest.
In addition, there is little understanding of non-pharmacological approaches, and health care systems are not proactively detecting and diagnosing the disease in its earliest stages. Further hampering efforts, dementia research has been under-resourced at the public level.
Maintaining the status quo is unacceptable. We must take immediate action to tackle the barriers to this disease head-on.
With that aim, the World Economic Forum, in partnership with the Global CEO Initiative on Alzheimer’s Disease will explore next week in Davos the opportunity to launch a coalition to bring public and private stakeholders, including large pharmaceutical manufacturers, biotech, governments, international organizations, foundations and research agencies together to form a unified front in the battle against Alzheimer’s.
This coalition would support pre-clinical research to advance the understanding of the disease with the development of large global prospective cohort, attract more capital by lowering the risks to investment in biomarkers, ensure the clinical trial platforms has the capacity to support further studies, and advance Healthcare System readiness in fields of detection, diagnosis, infrastructure and access. In the next year, we are seeking to create business plans and secure commitments from policymakers and business leaders to put Alzheimer’s on the agenda.
To create a highly prioritized, well-resourced global Alzheimer’s research environment with an efficient path to market, supported by well-understood biomarkers and an engaged healthcare network, is one of the most acute needs when it comes to the sustainability of healthcare delivery systems in the next decade. When it comes to patients, this is more than a need; this is a moral obligation.