The new report from Alzheimer's researchers includes a concern that the long history of failures with dementia drugs has left health-care systems unprepared for a potential breakthrough. The report said that health-care systems are not keeping pace with the science and are risking a situation where those living with Alzheimer’s disease are unable to access an identified cure.
“The lack of new products in the market has led the health-care systems to be complacent in this area,” Holzapfel said. “Many places don’t feel like there are good treatments, so as a result they delay helping patients and families prepare for the progression.”
Holzpafel previously worked for Pfizer, which announced early in 2018 it was ending its neurological drug research efforts, which critics of the search for an Alzheimer's drug said supported their view that a cure remains far away.
There is still a lack of proper diagnoses being made for many patients, and a shortage of diagnostic and imaging equipment. There also needs to be an improvement in access to specialists. The waiting time to reach a neurologist can be so long it deters those seeking help, Holzapfel said. As a result, health-care systems also need to increase primary care provider training so they can step in and perform some of the functions of specialists. In the long-term, there also must be a focus on increasing interest in Alzheimer’s study across the medical industry.
Clinical trials also require better infrastructure. The Global Alzheimer’s Platform (GAP) has found a “crippling shortage of clinical trial sites capable of performing pending clinical trials,” which could cause years of delays. There are 200 qualified Alzheimer’s trial sites in North America, but the volume needed would require 500 trial sites, according to Holzapfel, who is also a board member of GAP. The sites required are exceeding current capacity by 230 percent.
Holzapfel is pushing for more funding for health-care systems and clinical trials, despite the history of failures: “Often times we talked about trials as failed trials. They’re not failed trials, they’re advancing our knowledge of the science. We are learning from past trials and learning how to attack the disease.”
He said the "constant drumbeat of failure" also harms clinical trials by making individuals less open to taking part in them, because they associate the search for an Alzheimer's drug with failure. Increasing the number of individuals in trials has been repeatedly cited by top researchers as one of the keys to finding successful drugs.
It is not only the scientists associated with Sunday's report who remain optimistic. Earlier this year, the annual Brain Prize worth €1 million was awarded to researchers focused on amyloid targeting. They said the reason the Alzheimer's drug effort has failed so far is that drugs are delivered at a stage when the disease has already progressed too far. In comments to the press they expressed confidence about finding a successful drug within five years and Alzheimer's will disappear as a major problem for society within a decade.
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