Alzheimer’s Epidemic Creates Investment Quandry

Need Truth To Find Prevention, Treatment

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are not the highest-profile illness being targeted by the pharmaceutical industry. Cancer gets that distinction. Infectious-disease treatments get the second-biggest share of the pharmaceutical sector’s R&D dollars, followed by autoimmune diseases, then heart disease. Meanwhile, Alzheimer’s and dementia barely register as worthy (read “well-funded”) pursuit for the industry. Alzheimer’s stocks get similarly-lackluster attention from investors. Shocking admissions for a deadly disease that already has a hold on 44 million people–and growing fast.

Alzheimer's disease treatment

Just because Alzheimer’s drugs are a priority for the industry at large, however, doesn’t mean there’s no opportunity in the few Alzheimer’s stocks out there. Indeed, in some ways, the fact that so few researchers are taking aim at the illness means there’s outsized — and relatively competition-free –revenue potential for a viable drug in the space. Throw in the fact that the dementia and Alzheimer’s epidemic is expected to explode within the foreseeable future, and what you have something more than investment-worthy.

The big question is which stocks are the best Alzheimer’s stocks? It’s more than a little ironic when you think about it. Our current healthcare capabilities allow us to live longer, but now that we’re living longer, we’re more apt to develop dementia, or Alzheimer’s. The G8 Dementia Summit being held in London this week concluded the number of worldwide cases of Alzheimer’s could reach 135 million by 2050, up from the current 44 million. For perspective, 12.7 million people (worldwide) are diagnosed with cancer every year, and 7.6 million people die from cancer.

treat Alzheimer's disease

So why isn’t dementia given the same attention and effort cancer is? It’s not that there’s no money in it. In 2012, we spent $10.2 billion – globally — on treatments for Alzheimer’s. No, that’s not a lot, compared to the $110 billion we’re apt to spend on cancer therapies in 2013. Bear in mind, however, that we spent that $10 billion on Alzheimer’s drugs we knew weren’t likely to help much, if at all.

Unfortunately, despite studying it for years, medical researchers still aren’t entirely sure what causes the disease. It was only a few years ago that scientists largely concluded Alzheimer’s was the result amyloid plaque building up in the brain, so much that it breaks the needed connection between nerve cells. Since then, some have begun to think it’s heavy exposure to metals like aluminum or iron that cause the disease. Still others think Alzheimer’s is simply caused by oxidative stress.

Fortunately for drug developers, they don’t have to know exactly how their drug works to win the FDA’s approval. They only have to prove that it is safe and more effective that current drug choices. Those choices are Aricept, from Pfizer (PFE), Namenda from Forest Laboratories (FRX), and Exelon, from Novartis (NVS). All three drugs are each well over a decade old though, and not exactly thrilling choices … but they’re the only options out there for now. Hope, however, is on the horizon.


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