In March 2019, pharmaceutical company Biogen announced the halt of its global phase-three trials testing the effectiveness of aducanumab in treating Alzheimer’s disease. The trials which had only lasted for a little over a year were stopped due to poor results.
Dr. Alois Alzheimer described the condition, for the first time, in 1906. Over 100 years since then, Alzheimer’s disease and some other types of cognitive decline remain without a cure but continue to affect more people each year. Part of the reason why no treatments exist is because of our limited understanding of such diseases. The brain is a complex organ and current research cannot pinpoint what exactly causes the disease. This makes it challenging to find treatments that can target the disease at its root.
However, part of the reason is also because of the stigma which surrounds Alzheimer’s disease. A 2018 TIMES article reported that “surveys consistently show that people of all ages are universally afraid of developing the condition, yet unlike with conditions such as cancer and heart disease, there is little public discussion around it.” The impact on individuals, their families and caregivers is not highlighted enough.
As a result, research and funding in this area are slow and unable to keep up with the rate at which people are receiving diagnoses. A study published by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) in the United States showed that deaths related to Alzheimer’s disease are nearly on par with cancer deaths. Yet, while cancer research receives $5.7 billion annually, Alzheimer’s disease only receives $550 million. This is after the adoption of a national plan to address the disease in 2012 which saw the funding double. Globally, for every 1 researcher in Alzheimer’s disease, there are 4 in cancer. These statistics are not to diminish the importance of cancer and cancer research but to highlight the need to fund Alzheimer’s research in the same capacity.
To understand the status of research and funding in Sweden, SCI spoke with Ms. Liselotte Jansson, Secretory-General of Alzheimerfonden (the Swedish Alzheimer Foundation). Ms. Jansson who is a serial entrepreneur and has a background in Finance and IT joined the foundation in 2011. Her primary inspiration to serve the non-profit sector was her mother who had a diagnosis for the disease.