A survey of biomedical scientists doing early stage drug development for Alzheimer’s disease raises concerns that research funding is disproportionately low and risks putting labs developing treatments for the neurological disease in funding limbo.
About 94 percent said a lack of federal funding for brain and eye disease research is impeding scientific discoveries and 91 percent said that this is driving scientists from the field. The concern is that the funding challenges faced even by labs that have received funding in the past will deter future generations of scientists from pursuing research and instead opt for careers that command better salaries and maybe less stress.
The 173 biomedical scientists surveyed had received grants from the BrightFocus Foundation over the past five years. It looked at funding for Alzheimer’s and degenerative eye conditions. About half of the scientists surveyed focus on Alzheimer’s disease, but other scientists in the survey work on glaucoma and macular degeneration, followed by other brain and eye diseases.
Guy Eakin, vice president of scientific affairs for BrightFocus, said the total U.S. healthcare cost for Alzheimer’s is $200 billion annually and is expected to grow to $1.1 trillion per year by 2050.
BrightFocus, which changed its name recently from American Health Assistance Foundation, provides funding for early stage, investigator-led research.
Looking only at federal funding, Alzheimer’s disease falls well below other conditions. Funding data from the National Institutes of Health shows that funding for Alzheimer’s disease research has wavered between $412 million in 2008 t0 an estimated $449 million in 2013. AIDS research by comparison has gone from $2.9 billion to $3 billion in the same period. Cancer research has gone from $5.5 billion to $5.4 billion and cardiovascular disease research has remained fairly steady at $2 billion from 2008 to 2013 .
Roughly 5.1 million people in the U.S. are believed to have Alzheimer’s disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that 26.5 million adults have been diagnosed with heart disease as of 2011. About 1.1 million are infected with HIV, according to the CDC.
With the baby-boomer generation at or approaching retirement age, they’ll be at greater risk for Alzheimer’s and other degenerative neurological and eye conditions. It seems like an appropriate time to reevaluate research and funding priorities. But it’s also encouraging that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently permitted a clinical trial using remote monitoring and crowdsourcing for more efficient trial design that could cut down on the cost of recruitment and doing these studies. A group of nonprofits that includes BrightFocus called 21st Century BrainTrust are exploring ways to make clinical trials more efficient by developing ways for people to get a baseline on their cognitive health.