Alzheimer's Reading Room
"The first drugs that we tried didn't do it. There were those who then cried, "You're doing the wrong thing." They wanted to throw out the baby with the bathwater: "You got the wrong target. See, you're chasing the wrong ghost here."
No, the drugs were bad.
The amyloid is the target. You don't throw amyloid away."
Dr. Rudolph Tanzi is a Professor of Neurology and holder of the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Endowed Chair in Neurology and Mental Retardation at Harvard University. He is also Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital.
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I think that there are two tipping points coming, and I hope that one beats the other. For Alzheimer's disease, there's a tipping point coming between 2015 and 2020, where according to calculations made by the Cure Alzheimer's Fund, in particular Jeff Morby, the number of Alzheimer's patients is going to singlehandedly collapse Medicare or Medicaid. Already, whereas 13 percent of Medicare/Medicaid recipients have Alzheimer's, they're already sucking up over a third of the budget. So, you think about the baby boomers, you think about -- just do the math.
By 2015 to 2020, somewhere in there, there's a tipping point where our healthcare system will collapse under Alzheimer's alone. There is no tipping point right now for saying we have a drug that will prevent this disease. If we could come up with a drug that prevents the disease, such that it just pushes it out five years or 10 years, you're going to do really well because then you're going to push the disease out to an age where people may die of other causes, cancer or heart disease. So, the whole game here -- the whole purpose, I should say, here -- is pushing the disease out five years, 10 years, 15 years through preventative strategies. We know how to do it.
The first drugs that we tried didn't do it. There were those who then cried, "You're doing the wrong thing." They wanted to throw out the baby with the bathwater: "You got the wrong target. See, you're chasing the wrong ghost here." No, the drugs were bad. The amyloid is the target. You don't throw amyloid away. The drugs we tried weren't very good. You take shots on goal. The first shots on goal, in soccer terms, were a fifth grader shooting from mid-field, OK? Then you just get better and better at it. I think the shots we're taking on goal now, they're not quite penalty kicks, but they're probably a kick from about 20 yards out, so we have a shot, but we're not quite at a tipping point.
I'm hoping that now that we're just finishing the second wave of drugs, the third wave is in the pipeline. My hope is that the third wave of drugs, which have just now started to get into the clinic over the next couple of years, will create the tipping point. The question is, "Will this third wave of drugs, which I have high hopes for, be approved, show efficacy, get into humans before the financial collapse of our healthcare system under Alzheimer's?" What's going to change that? What's the game changer? Money. Funds. The only way to make the tipping point of effective drugs beat out the tipping point for healthcare collapse is throw more money at Alzheimer's. Certainly, $500 million in research dollars from the federal government with a $180 billion disease per year is crazy. It's ludicrous.
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Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room