Strong R&D Investment the Best Bet to Slow Alzheimer’s Growing Threat

Some experts believe Alzheimer’s will be the nation’s next great health care crisis.

Holly Campbell
Holly CampbellJanuary 28, 2015

Strong R&D Investment the Best Bet to Slow Alzheimer’s Growing Threat.

Since the publication of this post, the Alzheimer’s Association released a new report, “Changing the Trajectory of Alzheimer's Disease: How a Treatment by 2025 Saves Lives and Dollars,” that examines the potential lives saved and economic impact if a treatment is discovered that delays the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by 2025. Key findings of the report include:

  • The cost to all payers of caring for patients with Alzheimer’s will increase from $226 billion in 2015 to more than $1.1 trillion in 2050.
  • Cumulative costs to all payers for the care of Americans living with Alzheimer’s over the 2015-2050 period will be $20.8 trillion, nearly 70% of which will be borne by federal and state governments.
  • Between 2015 and 2050, Medicare costs will increase more than 420%, from $133 billion to $589 billion. Medicaid costs will increase 330%, from $41 billion to $176 billion.
  • A new treatment that delays the onset of disease by five years would reduce the number of Americans living with the diseases by 42% and the total costs to all payers would decrease from $1.1 trillion to $734 billion, a savings of $367 billion.  


A new series in the News-Press, “Stolen Futures: The High Cost of Alzheimer’s,” spotlights the economic and personal devastation of Alzheimer’s disease in Southwest Florida. The stories highlighted in the series bring to life the struggles of Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers and underscore the importance of investing in new innovative medicines to treat, slow, and prevent the disease.

Some experts believe Alzheimer’s will be the nation’s next great health care crisis. Nationally, Alzheimer’s accounts for $200 billion each year in direct medical costs, due in part to the high cost of nursing home care required for many patients. And the scope and economic burden of Alzheimer’s is expected to grow.

According to a report by the Alzheimer’s Association, the number of Americans with the disease will reach 13.5 million in 2050. On this trajectory, the direct cost of Alzheimer’s in American adults over 65 could increase to $1 trillion per year by 2050.

New innovative medicines could change these projections. The same report found that a new treatment that delays the onset of disease by five years would reduce the number of people with the disease by nearly half and reduce the cost for care of Alzheimer’s patients by $447 billion a year by 2050.

Though the underlying cause of Alzheimer’s remains unknown, researchers in the public and private sectors are committed to finding effective ways to combat and prevent it.

There are currently five FDA-approved medicines available to patients to help manage symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Between 1998 and 2012 there were 101 unsuccessful attempts to develop drugs to treat Alzheimer’s. Building on these “failures,” researchers today are studying more than 80 medicines in development, to identify better treatments for patients. 

The path to the development of new treatments is made difficult by the complexities of Alzheimer’s: it is believed that several medicines that act in different ways will likely be needed to slow or treat the disease. Although researchers are making great progress, there is no single test available to clinicians that definitively prove a person has Alzheimer’s. Many researchers believe that early treatment and diagnosis will be the best way to beat the disease but until there is a simple definitive diagnostic test it is challenging to conduct trials with Alzheimer’s patients, particularly those who do not yet have symptoms.

One way biopharmaceutical companies are working through these challenges is collaborative initiatives to help speed the research and discovery process, such as the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI). Founded by the National Institute on Aging in 2004, this public private partnership aims to better find and share data that will support drug development.

The impact of Alzheimer’s is personal for millions of Americans that care for a loved one who has been diagnosed. The biopharmaceutical community is investing in research efforts today that will help alleviate the burden of Alzheimer’s care tomorrow and, ultimately, stop this devastating disease by finding a cure. 

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