By: Melissa Tanner, Ph.D.
A look at the World Alzheimer Report is not likely to inspire much hope. The current worldwide prevalence of dementia is about 50 million, a figure that is expected to more than double by 2050. The total estimated worldwide cost of dementia was $818 billion in 2015, a figure that is rising 15 percent annually. This does not speak to the significant psychological toll the disease takes on affected individuals, caregivers, and family members. Unfortunately, investments to support research and innovation fail to match these trajectories. As discussed in a previous post, although dementia health care costs exceed those of cancer and heart disease combined, dementia receives a disproportionately low amount of research funding. Relative to dementia, heart disease and cancer research receive 15 and 25 times the amount of funding, respectively. Without sufficient funding innovation is impossible, and without innovation we are powerless to stop dementia.
What may inspire hope is a recent development in impact investing. Impact investing refers to financing that strives not just for economic return but for measurably beneficial social impact. The Dementia Discovery Fund (DDF) is an impact investment fund that was established in 2015 with a goal of unearthing novel therapies to stop or slow the onset of dementia. In June, following a $60 million investment from AARP, DDF reached its funding target of $350 million. This will allow it to fund research that explores hypotheses that extend beyond prevailing but thus far fruitless theories about the role of beta amyloid in Alzheimer’s pathogenesis. For example, Tiaki Therapeutics, a research company funded by DDF, is focused on the role that microglial cell dysfunction plays in degenerative brain diseases. Tiaki researchers are testing chemicals that can restore microglia function in order to find a drug to treat dementia. The ultimate goal for DDF is to discover at least three drugs with demonstrated effectiveness in human clinical trials by 2030.
The BCAT® Research Center is striving to keep pace with progress in dementia drug development through a number of projects targeting cognitive assessment and non-pharmacological interventions. For example, myMemCheck™, a self-assessment of cognition, was designed to circumvent barriers to dementia detection and fast-track the diagnostic process. This will become increasingly important once we have disease-modifying treatments, such as the ones being developed through research funded by DDF. Another important BCAT® initiative, the ENRICH® program, consolidates the best available dementia research into six brain healthy habits designed to reduce dementia risk. With many more projects in the pipeline, stay tuned to the blog for updates.
When it comes to dementia, we may not have a cure, but we do have hope.