BIO's Greenwood wants a 'Manhattan Project' for Alzheimer's

The 18th annual Wharton Health Care Business Conference last week at the Hyatt at the Bellevue on South Broad had the usual high concentration of smart folks in one semi-confined space. However, there were as many questions as answers in several of the panel discussions because most topics eventually got to that troubling issue of who will pay for all of the health care that Americans expect and companies expect to profit from.

Alzheimer’s disease will only add to the costs as the U.S. population ages. The other chronic diseases - diabetes, heart and lung ailments - are massive problems unto themselves. When Alzheimer's is added to the mix, the cost and strain on caregivers - often unpaid family members - increases.

The keynote speech on Thursday was delivered by former Pennsylvania Congressman Jim Greenwood, now chief executive officer of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) in Washington, D.C., which represents more than 1,200 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations across the United States and in more than 30 other nations.

"We need a Manhattan Project for Alzheimer's," Greenwood told the crowd, referring to the mobilization of thousands of American scientists to create a nuclear weapon before the Germans or Japanese could do so and defeat the U.S. in World War II.

The Obama administration is pushing $156 million toward help with research on Alzheimer's disease.

"Alzheimer’s disease, which today afflicts as many as 5.1 million people in the United States, devastates the lives of individuals suffering from the disease and places tremendous physical, emotional, and financial strain on their families and loved ones," Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a posting on the White House blog regarding the effort. "We can’t wait to act. As the population of the United States ages, the time for bold action on the growing public health challenge posed by Alzheimer’s is now."

The link to the rest of the plan is here.

Pharmaceutical companies would very much like to help address those concerns, and profit along the way.

Pfizer and collaborators announced an Alzheimer's Challenge 2012 contest, designed to provide money to researchers who present concepts worthy of exploration. A link to that is here.

GlaxoSmithKline chief executive officer Andrew Witty said during a conference call held to discuss 2011 earnings and future plans that GSK was getting out of the business of trying to develop new antipsychotic drugs - most industry efforts in that realm have failed - but is focusing R&D money on Alzheimer's disease and dementia. GSK estimates more 50 medicines are in development to deal with those ailments.