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Aug. 19 — Hillary Clinton has described where she wants to go with Alzheimer's research funding, while Donald Trump's plan is briefer.
Both have commented on the issue, and so it is one that can provide insight on the 2016 presidential candidates' approach to U.S. biopharmaceuticals and medical research.
There is no cure or treatment for Alzheimer's except for four drugs that temporarily relieve the symptoms in some. It affects 5 million people in the U.S., which is projected to rise to as many as 16 million by 2050, and sickens 48 million worldwide.
Clinton has offered a $20 billion plan to produce a cure for Alzheimer's in nine years, and Trump has—in answer to a question—said he strongly supports research funding in this area but offered no specifics. Clinton has said she has no personal connection to the disease. Trump's father died of it.
George Vradenberg, founder and chairman of the nonprofit USAgainstAlzheimer's (UsA2), told Bloomberg BNA in an Aug. 17 phone interview: “There are two candidates, both of whom are supportive of tackling this disease. One has provided a precise plan for Alzheimer's funding, and the other has expressed a commitment but as of yet has submitted no plan. The Alzheimer's community—and we call ourselves the Alzheimer's nation—will base our choices on the precision of the plan.”
Alzheimer's, a form of dementia, kills the nerves and tissues in the brain and shrinks it and destroys memory. And yet, Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer at Johnson & Johnson, said at a session of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization International Convention in San Francisco June 6 that 101 drugs were approved to treat Alzheimer's between 1998 and 2011, and none was successful in preventing, curing or consistently reducing the disease's symptoms (10 LSLR 12, 6/10/16).
Finding a cure is an uphill task. Panelists at the BIO session said that the international medical community is now exploring adaptive clinical trials for Alzheimer's disease to move from zero success to finding a cure or treatment by 2025.
Most of the drugs in development, like Eli Lilly's solanezumab, continue the traditional approach of targeting amyloid, a protein that clumps in the brain of Alzheimer's patients, while others—such as AbbVie's 8E12 and J&J/AC Immune's Tau Vaccine—are taking a newer approach of targeting tau, an aberrant protein that spreads through the brain as Alzheimer’s progresses.
Concern about Alzheimer's has also entered the political/legislative arena. The House's July 7 National Institutes of Health budget plan shows $1.26 billion, a $350 million increase, set aside for the Alzheimer’s disease research initiative (10 LSLR 15, 7/22/16).
Both the Democratic (10 LSLR 16, 8/5/16) and Republican party platforms mention Alzheimer's, with each providing a different perspective. The Democrats wrote, “We must make progress against the full range of diseases, including Alzheimer’s, HIV and AIDS, cancer and other diseases, especially chronic ones.” The Republican platform said, “Federal and private investment in basic and applied biomedical research holds enormous promise, especially with diseases and disorders like autism, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.”
As a senator from New York, Clinton was cochair of the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s and advocated increased funding of stem cell research.
On Dec. 22, 2015, Clinton presented a plan to cure Alzheimer’s disease by 2025.
“Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death right now in our country,” she said when announcing the plan in Fairfield, Iowa. “For every other of the Top 10 causes of death, we have treatments, we have means of prevention—we even have some cures. But for Alzheimer’s, we have no treatment, no prevention and no cure. So for me, the bottom line is if we’re the kind of nation that cares for its citizens and supports families, respects our elders and takes care of our neighbors, then we’ve got work to do. And we need to do better when it comes to diseases like Alzheimer’s.”
On a conference call organized by the Clinton campaign after the announcement, Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, a neurology professor at Harvard Medical School, told reporters that finding an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s was something that is “budget-constrained, not knowledge-constrained.” He added, “This is a tsunami, an epidemic that could single-handedly crush Medicare, Medicaid. [It's] an unmet medical need of the greatest type.”
According to her website, Clinton's plan would:
The plan also would help ensure seniors can take advantage of their Medicare benefits by having the Social Security Administration raise awareness about the wellness visits, cognitive screenings and other preventive benefits covered by Medicare.
UsA2's Vradenberg told Bloomberg BNA Clinton’s plan “is the most specific and aggressive plan released by any presidential candidate to date and the most in line with what experts believe is necessary to stop Alzheimer’s by 2025. She has been quite publicly explicit in her support of research, and that is appealing to the Alzheimer's nation.”
Stephanie Monroe, executive director of African Americans Against Alzheimer's, said in a Dec. 23 statement, “Hillary Clinton took a bold step on behalf of millions of families plagued with Alzheimer's by announcing her strong support for what the experts have told us is missing in the fight for a cure by 2025: adequate funding.”
Newt Gingrich, former Republican speaker of the House, tweeted after Clinton's plan came out that she was moving in the right direction.
Some criticized the plan because of its lack of specificity about the source of the funding. Vradenberg said, “We have received bipartisan support in Congress over the last few years for Alzheimer's research funding, and this is in recognition of the people impacted by the disease and the effect of the disease. Future funding will be dependant on the priorities each party has on where they will provide additional funding. But to date, the support for Alzheimer's research has been bipartisan.”
If anyone who ever ran for president would appear to have had a reason for a personal commitment for finding a cure for Alzheimer's, it would be Donald Trump.
His father Fred died of Alzheimer’s. A real estate developer like his son, he was diagnosed in 1993 and died in 1999 before there were any drugs to even temporarily alleviate the symptoms. Donald Trump told the New York Times for a Jan. 2, 2000, article that he remembered exactly when he realized his father was beginning to be not himself. In 1994, they were driving down Fifth Avenue when he told his father he had just bought the land beneath the Empire State Building. “That's a tall building, isn't it?” his father replied. “How many apartments are in that building?” At first, Trump thought his father was kidding.
Five years later, Trump said, when he got the call that his father had died, he was by himself, high up in Trump Tower, and he cried. He said it was the saddest day of his life.
And yet, except for brief descriptions of his father and the disease, Trump hasn't overtly demonstrated a passion to eradicate the disease. Although the availability of his tax returns is a matter of controversy, a copy of his 2009 return shows the billionaire made a $5,000 contribution to the Alzheimer's Association. An independent listing of contributions from his 2010 return indicates Trump made a charitable contribution of $1,000 to the Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation (ARPF) and gave $8,000 to Alzheimer's Community Care.
Trump did call Alzheimer’s “devastating for families” in a 56-second answer to a question during an Aug. 15, 2015, campaign stop in Hampton, N.H., and said it would be “a total top priority” once he became president.
Bloomberg BNA's attempts to obtain more detailed comments on Trump's position on Alzheimer's disease research funding from the candidate, his staff and from members of Congress who both support Trump and back more Alzheimer's research funding were unsuccessful.
Staff members of Alzheimer's nonprofits told Bloomberg BNA that it isn't uncommon for family members of those who have died of Alzheimer's not to talk about it, just as two generations ago people said their parents had died of old age rather than of cancer because having that disease in one's family was a stigma.
“There is a reticence of family members of those with the disease to talk about it,” Vradenberg said. “It's changing, but it's not changed. There is still a stigma to the disease. More and more, we are encouraging people to talk about it.”
To contact the reporter on this story: John T. Aquino in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Randy Kubetin at email@example.com.
To see Clinton's Alzheimer's plan, go to https://www.hillaryclinton.com/issues/alzheimers-disease.
To see a clip of Trump's remarks on the topic, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uojZlT-OmdM.
Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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