The Uncertain Future of Alzheimer's Research

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation

Is this a crisis?  Two news items with similar themes, springing from disparate sides of the research funding equation, have been in the press this week.

First, I noted that the CEO of Eli Lilly, making a keynote address at The Economist's 2011 Pharma Summit, shared his strong view that current regulatory environment cannot sustain ongoing investment toward much needed innovation.  He made these comments specifically in regard to the neuroscience field, where the diseases are complex, developing new treatments costly, and economic returns uncertain.

His unspoken message was that major R&D investments from big pharma may not be sustained, even as the aging of the population increases the need for better treatments of Alzheimer's disease and other age-related conditions.

Secondly, Reuters has reported the view from academia that prospects for future investment in the neuroscience field will be bleak without new incentives to encourage such spending.  An excellent article summarizing the situation suggested patent law and the regulatory pathway as two areas where governments can cooperate with industry, to improve prospects for a return on new investment.

This is something to think about.  For sure, the need for better AD treatments is dire and will only intensify in the coming years and decades.  At the same time, profit driven pharmaceutical companies must strategically allocate their investment funds into areas that optimize a return.

Remember, there is no moral obligation for any corporation to perform "in the interest of humanity".  To the contrary, corporations have a legal obligation to perform "in the interest of their shareholders", which is to optimize economic returns.  Sometimes, helping humanity translates into profits, but the correlation is far from perfect.

Going forward, the best and most immediate solutions will likely come from a well orchestrated effort between private economic interests, academic resources, and prudent public policy that reduces barriers and provides the right motivation to invest.

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