The Coming Golden Age in Alzheimer's Research

Over the past couple of weeks, it’s likely that you’ve heard or read something about the “Cancer Moonshot.” With energy from all corners of the healthcare industry, as well as with backing from the top reaches of the government, the initiative pledges to battle cancer with the same ferocity that carried Apollo 11 to the moon and back.

One of the key strategies of the “Cancer Moonshot,” which ultimately aims to cure the disease, revolves around breaking down siloes between those committed to the effort. 

For instance, the recently announced Cancer MoonShot 2020 project has formed a coalition of pharmaceutical companies, physicians, insurers, and academic research centers that are coming together to test combinations of experimental immunotherapies (compounds which trigger the immune system to itself root out the disease) on up to 20,000 trial participants. This collaborative approach will almost certainly accelerate medical progress, raise the ceiling on innovation, help companies more efficiently manage their own resources, and deliver value for current and future patients.

While in Alzheimer’s disease, unfortunately, a moonshot to a cure might not be in sight, many of the principles that have fueled this current golden age of cancer research still apply.

For instance, just as over the decades cancer has slowly revealed its varieties, complexities, and sub populations, the more we learn about Alzheimer’s disease, the more we realize that we are likely not searching for a single trigger, but rather a host of factors (genetic and biological) that manifest differently for every patient.  Like cancer, Alzheimer’s disease is not one disease but multiple diseases with underlying genetic/biological abnormalities that cause damage from different angles.

Similarly, some of the most exciting Alzheimer’s work – at Lundbeck and around the pharmaceutical industry – is also being done in immunotherapy, facilitating the body to hunt and destroy the loose and tangled proteins that cause neurological degradation. This is an area where a great deal of time and resources is currently being directed, here at Lundbeck and across academic, industry and government settings. I am personally very excited about what we’re learning and applying, and I can’t wait to see what collectively we can accomplish.

As has been true with cancer, as more and more families experience the devastating first-hand impact of Alzheimer’s disease, we are seeing a significant surge in public pressure to achieve major breakthroughs, both at a grassroots advocacy level and in the government sphere.

Finally, and just as importantly as anything else, we’re beginning to see the same type of cooperation in the Alzheimer’s community that is currently driving the “Cancer Moonshot.” Alzheimer’s clinical trials are notoriously rife with challenges, as it is difficult to identify and enroll patients at an early or moderate stage of disease. This makes trials expensive, risky, lengthy and complicated to conduct. Collaborating throughout this process stands to benefit everybody involved. That’s why Lundbeck joined the Global Alzheimer’s Platform, an important project led by the Global CEO Initiative on Alzheimer’s Disease, that joins pharmaceutical companies with patient advocacy organizations, academic research institutions, and government enterprises to accelerate clinical trials and make them more effective. That’s also why Lundbeck joined the Wellcome Trust in a public-private partnership focused on capturing the wealth of data relating to the neuroinflammatory aspects of the disease, as well as the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), a joint effort to study changes in cognition, function, brain structure and biomarkers in patients with prodromal to mild forms of the disease.   

I have full confidence that with the energy and resources currently being directed towards cancer, the “moonshot” we seek will be a stunning success. At the same time, the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s grows every day, and I know how much a similar golden age of research is needed. We are making great progress in this direction, and it can’t come soon enough.


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