Considering the crushing rate of failure when it comes to Alzheimer’s treatments, the potential for a drug that works is highly anticipated. But according to a study by Rand Corporation, the U.S. healthcare system can’t handle such a treatment.
The study found that if a treatment was released in 2020, it would take 18 months to get it into the hands of Alzheimer’s patients due to the shortage of specialists and equipment necessary to diagnose and treat the disease.
The study points out that new research theories show that Alzheimer’s treatment begins long before symptoms start—meaning adults who are over 55 would need to get screened for the biomarkers of Alzheimer’s in the brain. After screening, they would need to be evaluated, tested and treated, which all takes time. Patients could face up to a 14-month wait to see a specialist, according to the study. They found that it could take more than a dozen years to clear the backlog of patients who need to get amyloid testing and receive drugs.
Alzheimer’s is not a disease that halts for a dozen years, or even a dozen months. Delays in access to care, the study found, could mean that 2.1 million people develop Alzheimer’s while waiting for evaluation and treatment—at which point the treatment can no longer prevent the disease.
It’s important to note that the Rand study was sponsored by Biogen, a drug company developing a drug called aducanumab that is in a late-stage trial expected to finish in 2019. Rand’s projection was based on the need for regular IV infusions at centers that currently have limited capacity, which is how aducanumab is administered, as well as some other experimental drugs currently in trial stages.
The study highlights the complexity of Alzheimer’s. A string of failures of drugs tested on people already in the grips of the disease has made it clear that a drug will need to be given before symptoms set in to people who show no signs of illness. That makes distributing a drug to those who need it very challenging. The first step, according to researchers, is increasing the number of doctors who specialize in brain aging.
“The number of geriatricians and geriatric psychiatrists is projected to decline between 2020 and 2050. Training primary care providers and other specialists in dementia care would help prepare the workforce to diagnose and treat people with early-stage Alzheimer’s,” said Jodi Liu, Associate Policy Researcher at Rand.
By Emily Woodruff