The National President of Alzheimer’s Australia, Ita Buttrose, told pharmaceutical companies on Tuesday night that they must continue to do research into medications to modify or stop the progress of dementia.
Ms Buttrose said that people living with the disease and their carers are concerned by recent announcements that some pharmaceutical companies are pulling out of drug trials because they have shown no effect in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s.
“Coupled with the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee’s review into medications for Alzheimer’s Disease earlier this year, consumers are feeling particularly vulnerable,” Ms Buttrose said.
Pharmaceutical experts say it is a growing trend for pharmaceutical companies to cut back on in-house research that is high risk and may take time to be profitable. The areas that are apparently taking the biggest hit are related to dementia research.
Ms Buttrose urged the pharmaceutical companies to keep going.
“There have been more than 100 unsuccessful attempts to develop drugs to treat Alzheimer’s Disease since 1998, but we mustn’t let these failures stop us looking for treatments and a possible cure.
“It would be devastating for consumers if the information generated by the trials in recent years wasn’t investigated further.”
Earlier this year, researchers discovered that Alzheimer’s Disease can begin 25 years before memory loss and other cognitive symptoms became evident.
Ms Buttrose made it clear that Alzheimer’s Australia doesn’t just see funding for dementia research as an industry responsibility.
She also called for further public funding of dementia research saying that it was vital for industry investment to be underpinned by public health funding priorities. Alzheimer’s Australia is seeking a further $200 million over five years from the Federal Government for dementia research in addition to the $270 million allocated by Ageing Minister, Mark Butler, in April this year when he also named it as a National Health Priority.
“Dementia research over the past 30 years has advanced our understanding of the changes that take place in the brain. There is also greater confidence in better identifying those at risk of dementia.
“However, compared to other chronic health conditions, dementia research is grossly underfunded,” Ms Buttrose said.
The National Health and Medical Research Council allocated $159 million for cancer, $92 million for cardiovascular disease, $71 million for diabetes, $54 million for mental health and $24 million for dementia in 2011-12.
It is expected that 1 million Australians will have dementia by 2050 with the number of new diagnoses more than double the total number of people with dementia in 2010. Between 2000 and 2050, Australia’s population is anticipated to increase by 40 per cent, but the number of people with dementia is anticipated to increase by 327 per cent.
Dementia costs the health system $6.6 billion each year and is the third largest driver of cost in the health and residential care sectors.
Ms Buttrose was speaking at the annual Medicines Australia conference dinner.