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Pfizer pulls out of Alzheimer’s research, but society can’t afford to
Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has decided to cut its Alzheimer's research funding.
However, with the cost to individuals and wider society so high, this decision could have many unfortunate consequences.
Here, we'll take a closer look at the Pfizer announcement and the costs of Alzheimer's to society that could be alleviated through further research.
What’s the latest news from Pfizer?
Pfizer has announced plans to end its neuroscience discovery programmes, which include research into new treatments for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other cognitive conditions.
The decision was made following a recent review, the results of which Pfizer said indicated such programmes were found to lack financial sustainability.
Edinburgh University Professor Tara Spires-Jones defended the move from a commercial perspective, stating over 99% of Alzheimer's drug trials had failed during the last 15 years.
However, the news has been roundly criticised as a backwards step by charities including Alzheimer's Society and Alzheimer's Research UK.
In the short term, 300 Pfizer researchers will lose their jobs. Going forward, the full social and economic ramifications of effectively delaying the development of new Alzheimer's treatments are impossible to predict.
How many people does Alzheimer’s affect?
Today, approximately 850,000 people in the UK have some form of dementia. This represents around 7% of over 65s.
Alzheimer's accounts for 60-70% of these cases. Without new treatments, scientists predict this figure will more than double over the next 30 years.
On a global scale, predictions suggest that as many as 82 million people are likely to have some form of dementia by 2030 (The Guardian).
Two key issues are causing this rapid increase. Firstly, we have an ageing population, which has enabled a higher number of people to live for longer in the over 65 age group. Secondly, medical research indicates that unhealthy lifestyle choices are also increasing the number of people with Alzheimer's.
How much is Alzheimer’s research worth?
The greatest cost of dementia and Alzheimer's is undoubtedly the impact it has on people's lives; their relationships and their ability to live independently.
However, even if you focus solely on the financial aspects of dementia, the costs are still eye-watering.
The Alzheimer's Society estimates that the annual cost of dementia to the UK economy is £26 billion (Alzheimer's Society). This is only marginally less than the £29 billion we spend on all transport infrastructure, or around one-fifth of the total healthcare budget.
Of this figure, the NHS pays around £4.3 billion, while the social care system spends £10.3 billion. The remaining £17.4 billion is borne by people with dementia and their families in the form of unpaid care (£11.6 billion) and private social care (Alzheimer's Society).
Across the pond, this figure is closer to $200 billion (or, around £143 billion). Globally, estimates put the total cost of dementia at $818 billion (approximately £585 billion). This represents 1% of the world's total GDP.
With such a hefty bill to pay and such potential for improving quality of life for the tens of millions of people with this condition, the costs associated with Alzheimer's research suddenly don't seem so high.
Find out more about how The Good Care Group supports people with Alzheimer's on both an individual and national scale. Speak to our friendly team.