TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — For Alzheimer’s patients and their families, desperate for an effective treatment for the epidemic disease, there’s hope from new studies starting up and insights from recent ones that didn’t quite pan out.
If the new studies succeed, a medicine that slows or even stops progression of the brain-destroying disease might be ready in three to five years, said Dr. William H. Thies, chief medical officer of the Alzheimer’s Association. The group assists patients and caregivers, lobbies for more research and helps fund studies.
“The number of smart people working on this problem means to me we’ll begin to manage it better in the very near future,” Thies said. “It may be as short as three years away.”
That’s only if government and other sources provide tens of millions of dollars for additional research and more patients join clinical studies.
After decades of stumbles and dozens of promising experimental drugs failing, scientists think they’re now on the right track. They’re targeting what they believe are the mechanisms to arrest a disease that steadily steals patients’ personality and ability to remember, think and care for themselves.
A vaccine is in mid-stage testing, and drugmakers shy about funding expensive treatment tests could start as many as 30 studies once they’re more confident that their approach is sound, Thies said. Early next year, the first study to try to prevent Alzheimer’s begins — in people a decade away from symptoms but who have a genetic mutation that causes early onset Alzheimer’s. It will include three drugs that each attack the country’s No. 6 killer in a different way.
And in May, the Obama administration unveiled an ambitious national plan to fund new research, better train those caring for Alzheimer’s patients and help families get needed services via a new website, www.alzheimers.gov .
The number of Alzheimer’s patients in the U.S. is expected to jump from the current 5.4 million to 16 million by 2050. Costs for care, mostly borne by taxpayers, could skyrocket from roughly $200 billion this year to $1.1 trillion in 2050. The few treatments available only ease symptoms temporarily.
On Monday, drugmaker Merck & Co. announced it’s just begun the first combined mid- and late-stage study of a BACE inhibitor. That’s a new type of drug designed to slow mental and functional decline by limiting production of amyloid beta, the protein that’s the main ingredient in brain-damaging amyloid plaques considered the most likely cause of Alzheimer’s.