It will not have escaped the notice of all elderly people and their families that after some twenty years of significant involvement, the world’s biggest drug company Pitzer has just 10 days ago announced terminating its research into dementia and Alzheimer’s, and has also pulled the plug on its work on Parkinson’s, as well, which is a central nervous system degenerative disorder in which dementia becomes common in the advance stage.
[However, apparently other big drugmakers, including AstraZeneca and Eli Lilly, are in fact currently still pushing ahead with new Alzheimer’s treatment trials].
Well, dementia is a frightening medical problem of insurmountable proportions that matches cancer in its impact on countless families and communities around the globe.
Three years ago, a post here “ ‘Dementia’ the new massive Medical problem – anything for YOU to lose sleep about? Alzheimer’s heading Your way?” highlighted some of the issues. If you didn’t see it then you might like to read it now to gather some background, which is not the intention of this current post to cover.
Well, there are a number of identified illnesses that cause dementia but Alzheimer’s, which was first identified a hundred years ago accounts for up to 80% of cases, and that is exactly why it has been the main focus of research attention. [Then for second cause there is the aftermath of a stroke, and then also other conditions, some irreversible such as thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies, or a brain tumour or the spread of cancer nodules into the brain, or infection [viruses, bacteria, parasites (Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and other Prion Diseases)].
Dementia is evidenced by brain cell death but there is no answer yet to the age old “chicken or egg question” relating to that – does dementia cause it or is it caused by it?
Dementia mainly affects ‘older’ people and as countries’ health care improves (particularly in the low and middle-income countries) so Alzheimer’s numbers increase exponentially. Around the world there will be already some fifty million people or so now suffering from dementia, so it is a disastrously heavy blow for the ongoing prospects of world health that the search by a big player for a cure has been abandoned regardless, isn’t it? [In the UK we are looking at having a million dementia sufferers within the next half a dozen years (and some quarter of a million getting added yearly), while in America the incidence is fivefold that]
Now, don’t blame the likes of Pitzer, or indeed any other pharmaceuticals who have suffered expensive setbacks in recent years on Alzheimer’s [just about every clinical trial has failed so far], for their research funding decisions, because at the end of the day they are simply commercial outfits, out to make as many quick bucks as generatable and as much profit as is extractable, out of selling their drugs as they possibly can, aren’t they? They aren’t actually in the business of either caring, nor saving lives, nor helping societies, are they? No, if they can make more money from selling a drug to ‘treat’ an illness than one that will actually ‘prevent’ the condition, then that’s what they will do, eh?
The issue that seems to have floored Pitzer and driven them into despair, is that like most research over past decades, theirs has focused on the fact that the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the presence of amyloid protein deposits in the brains of those afflicted, and to find a cure they have been trying to do something about that. Well, for whatever reason the drugs created to deal precisely with what has been seen as the most medically interesting feature of AD, don’t actually do anything to cure existing conditions, so patients don’t improve and their dementia simply continues on.
So, currently there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, as available medications might reduce symptoms and improve quality of life in some people, but disappointingly they do not stop the progress of the disease. Although in top ten causes of death in the US, it is the only one that doesn’t have a meaningful treatment.
Like most problems in science that encounter theory difficulties, it is likely to take an entirely new basic idea in neuroscience to make a fundamental breakthrough, and this is most likely to come from other research outfits such those as in universities or the charitable institutions, rather than simply the commercial-driven drug multinationals – subsequently they will then of course latch onto it, invest billions to get drugs through trials into market, but then make a profit killing because of the scope of need.
It is extremely difficult for us laypeople who are on the outside of the medical research bubble to know what is actually happening with things like dementia, cancer and other major diseases, because the media translate such matters into striking headlines which are often misleading – and when they can’t generate those, news becomes sparse, eh? When you read about astounding advances in certain treatments and check-out such reports with the medics, you often find that they aren’t what they are made-out to be, haven’t you found?
[Mankind in the past has always displayed amazing ingenuity when the chips are down and doubtless that will be the case in finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, don’t you think?]