Alzheimer’s Disease Could Cost Trillions: Study

Published August 1, 2007

A study released in mid-May is the first to quantify the dollar value of longevity, productivity, and other issues for Alzheimer’s patients. Developing and utilizing drugs that delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease could save taxpayers, businesses, and government trillions of dollars over the next 40 years.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could help by streamlining the process of approval for treatments, analysts say.

The paper, titled “Alzheimer’s Disease and Cost-effectiveness Analyses: Ensuring Good Value for Money?” was sponsored by a coalition of nonprofit organizations called Accelerate Cure and Treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease (ACT-AD), which submitted the study to the National Bureau for Economic Research (NBER) in May for publication.

“Previous studies have focused exclusively on the clinical and qualitative characteristics of the disease, or just the cost of the disease, but no study has considered the social and economic value of improved treatments,” explained lead author John Vernon, Ph.D., a finance professor at the University of Connecticut School of Business and NBER faculty research fellow.

Saving Money

Vernon calculates that delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by one to five years could save $3.97 trillion dollars by 2050, and delaying it by even one year could save more than $1 trillion. Better treatments for Alzheimer’s could save $160 billion annually by 2010 in Medicare costs alone, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

“There is enormous optimism today that we can profoundly change the way Alzheimer’s is treated, if only promising treatments were given the same priority review by the FDA as drugs for other life-threatening conditions like cancer and HIV/AIDS,” said ACT-AD Chairman Daniel Perry.

Vernon agreed.

“Economic research suggests that the United States is not investing enough in medical and pharmaceutical research and development, based on the estimated social rates of return,” Vernon said.

Creating Policies

Vernon said he hopes the study will draw attention to the benefits of innovation in creating balanced policies for Alzheimer’s research and treatment.

“There is a propensity to think myopically about these issues,” Vernon said.

Vernon believes policymakers tend to focus on current needs, rather than the needs of future generations, which “is not economically efficient,” he said.

Current Alzheimer’s treatments mask the symptoms of the disease, Vernon said. But developing treatments that slow the disease’s progression, in addition to delaying its onset, could increase savings even more.

Promising Results

Early clinical trials show promising results for new Alzheimer’s drugs, several of which are currently being reviewed by FDA. ACT-AD hopes the study will prompt FDA to prioritize its review of new Alzheimer’s treatments.

“The FDA is working right now to reevaluate [its] approach to Alzheimer’s drugs,” Perry said. “We believe the new findings on social value will help to support an argument for rallying the kind of response that the disease demands of us all.”

Marika Benko ([email protected]) writes from California.

For more information …

“Alzheimer’s Disease and Cost-effectiveness Analyses: Ensuring Good Value for Money?” by John Vernon, Ph.D., et al., Accelerate Cure and Treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease, May 14, 2007,