WASHINGTON, D.C.—Alzheimer’s disease is a global issue, affecting 44.4 million people worldwide and racking up healthcare costs to the tune of $604 billion—1 percent of the global gross domestic product. In light of those numbers, it’s now being tackled on a global, unified scale.
The newly established World Dementia Council, an outgrowth of the 2013 G8 Dementia Summit, met for the first time in London at the end of April. The Council is supported by the U.K. government and will support innovation in addressing the issues of dementia in the realms of diagnosis, treatment and care, in addition to seeking to unlock greater investment globally. The Council will support Dr. Dennis Gillings, founder of Quintiles, who has been named the World Dementia Envoy and also stands as the Council’s chairman.
While dementia refers to a number of physical and mental symptoms that are serious enough to interfere with daily life, Alzheimer’s stands as the most common cause. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that Alzheimer’s disease is responsible for 50 percent to 80 percent of dementia cases in people 65 years and older.
And the numbers are just going to keep climbing; the World Health Organization estimates that the number of cases of Alzheimer’s and other dementias is set to nearly double every 20 years.
In a personal letter to George Vradenburg, convener of The Global CEO Initiative on Alzheimer’s Disease and chairman and co-founder of USAgainstAlzheimer’s, British Prime Minister David Cameron stated that, “Governments cannot do this alone. As with other diseases, the bulk of investment will come from private sources. We have to make investments in dementia research a more active proposition, particularly given the level of risk involved for private investors in respect of our current level of knowledge.”
The Council is seeking to address that issue, among the others that need to be tackled in order to find a cure for one of the greatest global healthcare burdens. Along those lines, the Council set a number of priorities for the coming year, which include the pursuit of clinical trial reform, namely to shorten trials and accelerate regulatory systems; creating new financing mechanisms; encouraging global regulatory harmony; supporting the application and sharing of big data for Alzheimer’s research; setting international norms for care delivery; improving incentives to encourage investment in Alzheimer’s research; and improving the framework for public/private collaborations.
“I think this is, since HIV/AIDS, the first time there has been a global effort like this,” says Vradenburg. “The effort with AIDS is only a decade, a decade-and-a-half old, so that’s relatively recent. There was an effort around whole-genome sequencing, but that was pretty much research only. This is the first time since HIV/AIDS that the world has come together across sectors and across countries to try and address a common global health problem.”
This initiative has been in the works since roughly February, Vradenburg tells DDNews. In December 2013, a dementia consortium summit of G8 took place in London, where the group committed to naming a World Dementia Envoy. The participants pledged to increased funding for dementia research and set the goal of a disease-modifying treatment or cure by 2025. The United States will host the consortium next February, where the participants will review its progress.
The World Dementia Council is composed of eleven original members that represent the G8 countries, including Vradenburg and Gillings; Andrea Ponti, vice chairman and co-head of Global Healthcare Investment Banking, JP Morgan Chase; Dr. Paul Stoffels, global chair at Johnson & Johnson; Yves Leterme, deputy secretary general at The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development; Prof. Martin Knapp, director, London School of Economics and King’s College London; Sir William Castell, chairman of the Wellcome Trust; Prof. Dame Sally Davis, director general, UK Department of Health; Dr. Yves Joanette, scientific director, Canadian Institute of Health Research, Institute of Aging; Prof. Pierluigi Nicotera, scientific director and chairman of the Executive Board, German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases; and Dr. Ronald Peterson, director of the Mayo Alzheimer's Research Center.
“I’m honored to be part of the World Dementia Council and will use my time to work with others who are demonstrating effective leadership and commitment toward achieving the goal of stopping Alzheimer’s by 2025,” said Vradenburg. “It is critical that we put together a strong nation-based infrastructure of key stakeholders in government, industry, science and civil society who have the power to execute on the goals and priorities of the Council.”