President Obama's plan to beat Alzheimer's disease by 2025 has generated buzz in the biomedical community, and many have questions about whether the goal is realistic. The questions have arisen because of the lack of funding for the mission, as well as the lessons history has taught about the long timeframes required to bring new treatments to patients.
The gist of the president's goal, part of an effort he signed into law last year, calls for developing a way to effectively treat or prevent the memory-stealing disease within 13 years. However, without new funds to bankroll the anti-Alzheimer's cause, the law appears to miss the important role of financing in bringing new medicines to patients. And since there are no existing drugs in the pipeline that prevent the illness, some experts have questions as to whether the mission is destined to fail to meet its 2025 goal.
"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," Dr. Sam Gandy, an Alzheimer's researcher at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, told Reuters. "In my mind, that provides the unfortunate sense that we will have 'failed' if we don't have a cure by 2025."
Yet there might be some logic in setting a date for winning a war on Alzheimer's. "Call it a stretch goal," wrote Roger Frechette, a partner at New England PharmAssociates, a life sciences consultancy, via Twitter, "but without a goal, it's hard to know where to go."
Pharma companies have had mixed results in their attempts to advance drugs for Alzheimer's, for which existing treatments can only address some of the symptoms for a relatively short time. Just this week, for example, Pfizer ($PFE) and partner Medivation ($MDVN) reported that a Phase III trial for the drug Dimebon failed to hit the mark in treating patients with the disease. Yet there are an estimated 5 million Americans suffering from the disease, Reuters reported. And a bevy of biopharma groups are chasing the big market opportunity, including major players AstraZeneca ($AZN), Eli Lilly ($LLY) and others.
Despite all of these efforts, the fight against Alzheimer's is immature compared with diseases such as cancer and AIDS. Like similar efforts, the battle is going to cost significant amounts of money, and it's hard to imagine a new law and bold plan for action making up for the lack of financing behind Obama's 2025 goal.
Special Report: Making sense of the Alzheimer's drug pipeline