My mother-in-law called me yesterday. She doesn’t quite know what I do for a job but has a vague idea I work with a group seeking to understand and ultimately prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
She heard on the radio that someone had developed a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. It had something to do with cars in the driveway and the US government was bankrolling it. She was both pleased and relieved, and suggested I now focus my attention on other brain diseases that need to be cured.
She then sent me a link to the radio interview timed to coincide with the publication of research in Nature’s Scientific Reports journal. The media release about the study, like the radio interview my mother-in-law heard, was very excited.
It alerted us to an elegant set of experiments, based on technology from Flinders Medical Centre, that generated candidate vaccines against Alzheimer’s disease that may therefore provide a treatment for dementia. According to one of the study’s authors, an effective vaccine could be only a few years away.
The vaccines, tested in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease and in human brain tissue, showed a high responsiveness to both targets in each context. This is indeed good news, and these compounds should be advanced to the drug-development pipeline as fast as possible.
But before we get too excited, it’s worth noting that for every 5,000-10,000 compounds that enter development pipelines, only one drug will be approved for use in patients, at an estimated cost of US$2.6 billion.
In Alzheimer’s disease specifically, 244 compounds were investigated in 413 clinical trials between 2002 and 2012, with only one new drug being approved for temporarily alleviating symptoms of the disease. That’s a success rate of 0.4%.
Some Facts About Alzheimer’s And Dementia
Doctors describe dementia as a phenomenon in which a person has difficulties across multiple areas of thinking. It happens, for instance, when problems in planning, remembering, concentrating or navigating become so severe that the person’s health or ability to live independently are compromised.
In people aged over 65, the most common cause of dementia (around 70%) is Alzheimer’s disease. Older age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s; one in ten people aged between 60 and 70, and three in ten over 80, meet clinical criteria for the disease.