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Working Together to Beat the Scourge of Alzheimer’s Disease

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Alzheimer’s disease is taking an increasingly heavy toll on the lives of individuals and society as a whole. More than 46 million people worldwide live with dementia, and this number is expected to increase to 130 million by 2050.1 Globally, the annual costs of dementia are estimated at a staggering $818 billion.1 And Alzheimer’s disease causes enormous human suffering that must not be ignored or forgotten. While the disease begins years before symptoms appear, Alzheimer’s ultimately robs people of their memories, ability to think and function, and their connections to loved ones and communities. While some medicines improve symptoms, we don’t yet have disease-modifying treatments, so ultimately Alzheimer’s is fatal, after a long, slow neurodegenerative decline. Despite such a bleak picture, we are optimistic about future treatments for Alzheimer’s and are working hard to tackle the disease.

In fact, I believe we will conquer the illness in our lifetime, and that this will be achieved only through scientific and societal collaboration as well as through innovative models of research funding. This week the Dementia Discovery Fund (DDF) — an innovative new global investment fund to support discovery and development of new dementia treatments — was launched under the leadership of the UK Government’s Department of Health. Johnson & Johnson is a founding collaborator of the DDF and has invested $10 million. The DDF aims to unite industry, government and nonprofits in pursuit of novel therapies to treat or cure dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

I am very proud that Dr. Husseini Manji, Global Head of Neuroscience at Janssen Research & Development, LLC, one of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, and one of the world’s leading brain experts, has been named to the Scientific Advisory Board of the DDF with other key scientists, including representatives from the Fund’s investors and world-leading researchers. Dr. Manji and his colleagues on the Advisory Board will share expertise, expand the DDF’s networks, and guide the investment team in its scientific decision-making with one goal: to ultimately beat Alzheimer’s disease.

Recent advances have been made in finding new biomarkers, improving imaging and diagnostic technologies that have bettered our understanding of how to approach clinical research. These insights are drawn from failed clinical trials of monoclonal antibodies to clear amyloid plaques, thought to be a cause of Alzheimer’s disease, from the brain. Our current thinking calls for studying patients much earlier in the course of the illness, before amyloid proliferates and deposits in the brain, and before symptoms are present. Early research with experimental medicines called BACE inhibitors to limit or prevent amyloid production is promising, as is preclinical research with anti-tau vaccines. Tau is a brain protein that can misfold and spread, and is thought to contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s.

At Johnson & Johnson and Janssen, we are undaunted by the research challenges of Alzheimer’s disease. Janssen has a robust Alzheimer’s disease research program, with a pipeline focused on underlying hallmarks of the illness – amyloid plaques, tau tangles, and synaptic loss in the brain – as well as on ways to slow disease progression. In addition to our work with the DDF, we have numerous scientific partnerships with both the public and private sectors to address the economic and societal impact of the disease.

I know in my heart that Alzheimer’s is no match for the talent, passion, and dedication of the thousands of scientists, researchers and others committed to conquering this global public health challenge. Through collaboration and cooperation we will find ways to beat the disease, and improve the lives of people the world over for generations to come.

1Alzheimer’s Disease International, World Alzheimer Report 2015, The Global Impact of Dementia

Dr. Paul Stoffels is Chief Scientific Officer, and Worldwide Chairman, Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson. In this role, he works with R&D leaders across Johnson & Johnson to set the enterprise-wide innovation agenda and is a member of the Johnson & Johnson Executive Committee. He began his career as a physician in Africa, focusing on HIV and tropical diseases research. Paul chairs the Johnson & Johnson R&D Management Committee and provides oversight to the Johnson & Johnson Development Corporation (JJDC) and the Johnson & Johnson innovation centers, with the goal of catalyzing innovative science and technology.

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