Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most difficult to treat diseases in the United States today. Actually, there really is no set medication that can be used to completely combat the dangerous debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s. And now, new statistics show that almost 100 percent of trial drugs issued for Alzheimer’s disease ends up failing. A patient’s survival rate after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s often ends up depending on the treatment plan their doctor issues and rate at which the disease is evolving in their bodies.

The BBC reports on the lack of success in Alzheimer's drug trials.

This issue is becoming a growing problem. Why? The baby boomer generation is getting older and therefore the number of Alzheimer’s cases is quickly rising.  

What do the statistics show? The BBC states, “Approximately 99.6 percent of Alzheimer’s disease drug trials are unsuccessful, according to new research from the Cleveland Clinic.”

So, how was the research conducted?

Experts used data from to come up with their findings. is a government website that keeps track of ongoing clinical trials. Researchers realized from this data that from 2002-2012, 244 drugs had been tested to treat Alzheimer’s, and only one drug was actually a success. Government data shows that around 10,000 baby boomers are reaching the Alzheimer’s risk period, and the need for drug treatment is imminent.

How do drugs for other diseases do? Is a drug failure rate of over ninety-nine percent that bad?

Well the BBC says yes it is. “99.6% of trials of drugs aimed at preventing, curing or improving the symptoms of Alzheimer's had failed or been discontinued. This compares with a failure rate of 81% for cancer drugs. The failure rate was ‘especially troubling’ given the rising numbers of people with dementia, said Dr. Simon Ridley, of Alzheimer's Research UK,” according to the BBC.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia today and the number of victims will more than double in the next couple of decades if a proper medication is not sought.

What problems does Alzheimer’s cause?

Victims suffering from the disease have issues with memory loss, inability to think properly and face behavioral problems. Patients often forget who their own family members are, large chunks of their lives and in a nutshell become unable to function properly and recall how to perform every day tasks such as driving.

What causes Alzheimer’s? How does the disease even form?

Fox news explains, “Alzheimer’s memory problems appear to be caused by the formation of two major tissues in the brain – plaques and tangles. Plaques form when beta-amyloid proteins clump together, blocking cell-to-cell signaling. Tangles are twisted strands of the protein tau. When they begin to form, nerve cells begin to die.”

When these cells die this then causes the symptoms of Alzheimer’s such as memory failure, personality changes and other problems associated with the disease.

If researchers are aware of what causes the disease then why can’t they come up with a medicine that targets or reverses those effects? Well most drugs so far have been created to try to prevent the plaque buildup but almost all of these drugs have failed (99.6%). So, perhaps researchers do not understand the disease as well as they thought they did.

Dr. Ridley, who heads the Alzheimer’s Research center in the United Kingdom told the BBC,

“The authors of the study highlight a worrying decline in the number of clinical trials for Alzheimer's treatments in more recent years. There is a danger that the high failure rates of trials in the past will discourage pharmaceutical companies from investing in dementia research. The only way we will successfully defeat dementia is to continue with high quality, innovative research, and increase investment in clinical trials.”

The BBC consulted various Alzheimer’s experts in order to gain a comprehensive opinion of what issues Alzheimer’s researchers are facing and what this means for victims. Dr. Hill told the BBC, “The development of better experimental models that could be incorporated into a battery of tests, will not only help us to understand the changes that occur in the brains of Alzheimer's disease patients, but also provide tools for the development of new drug treatments that could slow or stop the onset of disease.”

Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease at all.

Doctors simply try to manage patients’ conditions and people hope that their physician catches their disease early on so that they can plan early as the cognitive and mental decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease is inevitable.

What did the study’s lead author say about his findings? Dr. Cummings director of the Center for Brain Health at the Cleveland Clinic told Fox, “We’re looking forward from 5.5 million victims [now] to around 14 million by 2050 if we don’t develop something. Yet we’re meeting this with a trickle of success in terms of drug development. The dramatic message is that Alzheimer’s disease drug development is in a disastrous state and we have to change this.”

What effect is Alzheimer’s disease having on the American economy? In 2014 Americans spent a whopping $214 billion dollars on Alzheimer’s care for those victims suffering from the disease. And if no cure or proper medication is found soon then this number is expected to rise to $1.2 trillion dollars in 2050.

So why isn’t there more progress being made towards Alzheimer’s treatment and research? How much money is going towards it?

Dr. Cummings told Fox, “We are investing about $600 million per year in Alzheimer’s research and about $6 billion per year in cancer research… at the same time that Alzheimer’s is having a larger impact on the U.S. economy. That doesn’t mean we should be doing less cancer research; we should be doing more Alzheimer’s research.” He also said that many researchers use inconsistent procedures that affect the reliability of data and this causes drugs to be created that eventually fail.

How many drugs have even been approved for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease? Five drugs have been approved but they do not treat the underlying cause of the disease- the plaque. Instead, the drugs only work to try to reduce the effects of the symptoms of the disease. Scientists seems to understand the symptoms of the disease better than the disease itself, therefore they find it easier to develop drugs that deter the symptoms rather than drugs that prevent or deter the disease altogether.

Is there any hope for Alzheimer’s victims?

Well, lead researchers such as Dr. Cummings say that if scientists start focusing on creating drugs that prevent plaque and tangle (and thereby deter cell death) rather than focusing on drugs that only deter symptoms then they could make great strides in curing or putting together effective medication for Alzheimer’s disease patients.

Dr. Cummings issued a statement summing up his take on the current state of Alzheimer’s research and care, “Overall, my message is we’re doing too little, investing too little; we need the help of the government, philanthropists, advocacy groups, venture capital. We need a very comprehensive approach to developing new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, because it’s truly in a disastrous state.” 

Gerry Oginski
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