Pushing forward on Alzheimer’s disease

This week, the FDA approved the use of F-18 florbetaben (Neuraceq) as a diagnostic amyloid agent to help rule out Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

Neuraceq joins Amyvid and Vizamyl, two agents that also received FDA approval in recent years, to form a three-pronged imaging approach in the continued effort to develop a way to definitively diagnose AD, which is misdiagnosed in an estimated 10-30 percent of cases.

The approval of Neuraceq came a day after the Alzheimer’s Association released its 2014 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report, which only underscored the urgency of improving AD diagnostic tools and treatments. According to estimates in the report, 5.2 million Americans currently have AD and that number will rise as baby boomers age. By 2050, an estimated 16 million people aged 65 and older will have the disease.

The report highlighted the fact that women face a disproportionate burden related to AD. Not only do women age 60 and up have a 1-in-6 chance of getting the disease compared with a 1-in-11 chance in men, but women are also more than twice as likely to be providing 24-hour care to someone with AD.

Approval of a new imaging agent is a step in the right direction, but if the U.S. is serious about easing the burden of AD, research funding will have to receive a boost. The National Institutes of Health spends $6 billion a year on cancer research, $4 billion on heart disease research and $3 billion on HIV/AIDS research. In contrast, less than $500 million per year is devoted to AD.

That’s not to say that money for cancer, heart disease or HIV/AIDS research is not well spent; indeed, we’ve made great strides in addressing those conditions, which should provide hope that similar results can be achieved if equal funding was provided to AD research. The statistics also suggest AD research needs to become more of a priority, as AD is now the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., greater than prostate and breast cancer combined, and deaths from AD increased 68 percent from 2000 to 2010.

If a few billion extra a year for AD research sounds expensive, consider that should a treatment be developed that merely delays the onset of AD by five years, it would have a profound effect on the trajectory of AD growth. A breakthrough like that would cut the number of people with AD in the year 2050 by 43 percent, reducing total AD costs to all payers that year by an estimated $447 billion, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Consider it an investment in our future.

Evan Godt
Editor – Health Imaging