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Alzheimer’s disease: a biotech challenge

May 2018

Biotech aims at curing Alzheimer’s disease

Progress is being made in the care of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Until the medical biotechnology industry finds a cure dementia villages are helping fill the gap.

From the outside, nothing indicates that the residential area of Hogeweyk, near the Dutch town of Weesp, houses more than 150 people with Alzheimer’s disease. This modern-day nursing home consists of 23 apartments in which six or seven clients live together. In each community a caregiver is present, who nurses them, prepares meals, helps them go shopping and ensures their safety. Quality of life in dementia village is ensured with the possibility of conducting one’s everyday affairs in a familiar environment. In Hogeweyk, all common facilities are available such as a cafe, a park and a shop for daily groceries.

Finding an effective cure takes time

New initiatives such as Hogeweyk are great but not a long term solution. Therefore, the pressure on the medical sector to find a cure for Alzheimer's is increasing. As a result of an aging and growing world population, the number of patients is only expected to keep growing. The Alzheimer's Disease International organization predicts an increase from around 50 million patients today to 75 million by 20301. The total costs of treating the disease in the United States alone could quadruple between now and 2050, to more than one trillion dollars2. ‘Hopefully, it will not come to that’, says Marie-Laure Schaufelberger, Product Specialist at the Pictet-Biotech fund. ‘Although there are already ways to help with the symptoms of the disease, it will take time to develop an effective cure.’ Former US President Barack Obama launched a plan to defeat Alzheimer’s by 20253. While being a very ambitious target, the biotech industry is showing encouraging progress.

Fighting central nervous system disease

Biotechnology companies are making progress developing treatments for central nervous system disease, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and depression’, explains Schaufelberger. ‘At the end of 2017, an American biotech company published very positive research results of a new remedy for depression4. However, in the area of Alzheimer’s, this kind of progress has not yet been made. It is a complicated disease. To start with, it is still not clear what the cause is.’ Currently, several biotech companies are conducting trials for new treatments. The potential of a major breakthrough in fighting Alzheimer’s and other central nervous system diseases, as well as recent progress in fields like oncology and rare diseases, is an indication that the biotech industry could be a promising sector for investors. The industry has a predicted a growth rate of 15 to 20 percent per year5.

There will be a time that we won’t need Hogeweyk and other dementia villages any longer. We will probably have a biotech company to thank for that.

Marie-Laure Schaufelberger, Product Specialist


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