It is well known that doctors can be reluctant to diagnose diseases for which no effective treatments exist. Understandable, it could be argued but perhaps not always justifiable. Alzheimer’s disease is a case in point. This is a condition that is by far the most common form of dementia and kills more people than breast and prostate cancer combined. Millions already suffer from it and the numbers are rising rapidly with an estimated 1 in 3 people born in 2015 expected to develop Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia! ¹
Diagnosis is not that difficult. A relatively simple breakthrough assay of cerebral spinal fluid can now detect it very early with the same kind of accuracy as a CAT scan and be used to track its progression. Even so, the question remains why use it if you can’t treat the disease?
The straight answer is that, although the only drugs available are those that aim to provide some symptomatic relief, there are other good reasons for early diagnosis. For a start it enables people, particularly partners or family, to understand otherwise strange or irascible behaviour. Furthermore, it allows them to plan for the future. Not only that but there are things which can be done which may slow the course of the disease. Possibilities include regular exercise, social engagement, healthy diet, mental stimulation, quality sleep and stress management. In addition, maybe there is control of blood pressure and cholesterol, smoking cessation, reduction of weight and moderation of alcohol consumption. Perhaps too, hope is around the corner. ²
The big hope in Alzheimer’s disease is the arrival of drugs that will modify progression. Currently, there are 132 agents in clinical trials of which 96 are disease modifiers with 17 in Phase 3.³ Research is therefore still robust despite a number of setbacks and there may be something useful on the market sooner rather than later. Whenever such a drug arrives early diagnosis will be crucial and will pave the way for beginning to combat a disease which imposes not only a huge human burden but a massive financial one as well. Breakthroughs in treatment led by breakthroughs in diagnosis will provide a cause to celebrate once again just what a contribution pharma can make to people’s lives!
- Alzheimersresearchuk.org>one-in-three-2015-develop-dementia; 21st September 2015
- Helpguide.org>articles>preventing-alzheimers-disease; 24th September 2019
- Alzheimers disease drug development pipeline 2019. Jeffrey Cummings et al. Alzheimers Dement (NY) 2019; 5:272-293